French President Emmanuel Macron declared on Friday that France’s ambassador to Niger, Sylvain Itté, is effectively being held “hostage” inside the French embassy by the ruling military forces and is subsisting on “military rations.”
“As I speak to you, in Niger, we have an ambassador and diplomatic staff who are being held hostage at the French embassy,” stated the French head of state during a visit to Semur-en-Auxois in east-central France on September 15. He further added, “They are preventing food deliveries. He is eating military rations,” alluding to the military junta that ousted the president. Ambassador Sylvain Itté “no longer has the opportunity to leave; he is persona non grata, and they are denying him sustenance,” emphasized Macron.
The military, who seized power on July 26 after overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum, had ordered the expulsion of the French ambassador at the end of August, following Paris’s refusal to comply with an ultimatum demanding his departure. France continues to oppose this expulsion, arguing that the current government lacks the authority to make such a request.
When asked about the possible repatriation of the ambassador to Paris, Macron reiterated, “I will do what we agree upon with President Bazoum, because he is the legitimate authority, and I speak to him every day.” France still recognizes Mohamed Bazoum as the legitimate head of state of Niger.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna stated that Sylvain Itté is “working” and will remain in his position as long as President Macron desires. “He is very useful to us with his contacts and those of his team; there is still a small team around him,” she said on LCI on Friday evening. “He will stay as long as we wish him to stay. This is a decision that belongs to the President of the Republic,” she emphasized.
Regarding the future of French military cooperation with Niger, the new government has denounced military cooperation agreements with France and is counting on a “swift departure” of the approximately 1,500 French military personnel stationed in the country. On September 10, Emmanuel Macron emphasized that any redeployment of French forces in Niger would only be decided upon at the request of President Bazoum.
Emmanuel Macron also confirmed that France will “continue to host, of course” artists from the Sahel region, even as voices in the cultural world protested against an administrative directive calling for the suspension of collaborations with artists from Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. However, he acknowledged that for Nigerien artists who do not yet have their visas, the situation appears complicated because access to French consular services is no longer possible. “It’s not that we are prohibiting it; it’s that we cannot provide it [access to the embassy] due to the coup leaders and security reasons,” stated the President.