A special delegation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to Niger Republic has met with military junta leader in what is now believed will open doors for dialogue.
The delegation led by Nigeria’s former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.) met the coup leaders and ousted President Mohamed Bazoum in Niamey, the capital of Niger.
Speaking to journalists shortly after their meeting with Niger military leader, General Abdourahmane Tiani, the leader of the delegation, Abubakar expressed optimism that it will open more doors for dialogue.
Abubakar noted that General Tiani raised some concerns over the handling of the coup d’etat, noting that the delegation will report back to ECOWAS leaders.
He said with the meeting, dialogue will continue until the 15-member nation regional bloc finds a lasting solution to the political crisis in Niger Republic.
Although ECOWAS has not ruled out military option, it has insisted that it will pursue diplomatic ways to reverse the July 26 coup.
The coup leaders’ acceptance of the mission signals a potential willingness to negotiate after the bloc on Friday doubled down on its threat to use force as a last resort to restore democracy, saying an undisclosed “D-Day” had been agreed for a possible military intervention, Reuters reports.
While previous ECOWAS missions have been rebuffed, Saturday’s delegation was met at Niamey airport by the junta-appointed prime minister.
There was no immediate comment from the junta, which has held Bazoum since seizing power despite international calls for his release.
Tiani was scheduled to address the nation in a televised address on Saturday evening.
ECOWAS has taken a harder stance on the Niger coup – the region’s seventh in three years – than it did on previous ones. The credibility of the bloc is at stake because it had said it would tolerate no further such overthrows.
Niger also has strategic importance for regional and global powers because of its uranium and oil reserves and role as a hub for foreign troops involved in the fight against the insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Underscoring the interests at stake, the U.S. State Department said on Saturday it had sent a new ambassador to Niger whose “diplomatic focus will be to advocate for a diplomatic solution that preserves the constitutional order.”
The junta’s vow to resist external pressure to stand down has been applauded by many in Niger.
Thousands of its supporters gathered at a stadium in Niamey on Saturday, overwhelming organisers of an unofficial census of civilians willing to volunteer for non-military roles if ECOWAS does resort to force.