Niger’s military rulers have banned “French aircraft” from flying over the country’s airspace, according to the Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) website.
Niger’s airspace is “open to all national and international commercial flights except for French aircraft or aircraft chartered by France including those of the airline Air France,” it said in the statement dated late Saturday.
The air space would remain closed for “all military, operational and other special flights”, unless receiving prior authorisation, the message said.
Air France told AFP simply that it was “not flying over Niger airspace”.
Niger had reopened its airspace on September 4 for commercial flights after having been closed for nearly a month.
The West African nation then announced on August 6 it was closing its airspace due to the “threat of intervention from neighbouring countries”, as the Economic Community of West African States threatened military action to restore the elected President Mohamed Bazoum who had been overthrown in a coup on July 26.
France has repeatedly supported the West African bloc, and relations between Paris and Niamey have been at an all-time low since the coup.
It was earlier reported that, Niger’s junta accused France of violating the country’s airspace and plotting to destabilize the West African nation.
The allegation came amid growing tensions following the recent military coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
In a statement Wednesday on national television, the junta asserted that a French military aircraft had breached a ban on the country’s air space, adding to their concerns that a larger plot to sow discord within the country was afoot.
Col. Amadou Abdramane, the junta’s spokesperson, suggested that French forces might have ulterior motives to create an atmosphere of generalized insecurity to “discredit” the caretaker government calling itself the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country (CNSP).
Abdramane said that France had also freed 16 terrorists who had been incarcerated. The junta said these terrorists planned an attack Wednesday on its National Guard position.
The attack targeted a position held by the National Guard in the Tillaberi region which borders Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin, he added.
This prompted authorities in Niger to declare a state of high alertness across the country. The CNSP alerted the domestic and international community of “events of extreme gravity in progress in Niger” attributable to French military forces, he said.
The junta, which appointed a transitional prime minister earlier this month, has been keen to assert its authority, promising to ensure Niger’s stability.
France, a former colonial power in Niger, has maintained a military presence in the Sahel region as part of counterterrorism efforts.
France denies accusations
The French Foreign Ministry and Armed Forces, in a joint statement, rejected the “new unfounded accusations” made by the putschists in Niger.
The French military personnel stationed in Niger are present at the behest of the recognized Nigerien authorities to fight against terrorist organizations that are causing instability and the senseless killing of civilians in the Sahel, they said.
“These statements against France are yet another diversionary tactic at a time when ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) is stepping up its mediation efforts to restore constitutional order in Niger,” they added.
According to the statement, today’s aerial operation in Niger was previously agreed on and technically coordinated with Nigerien forces, as confirmed in writing.
There have been no attacks on any Niger camp, the Foreign Ministry and Armed Forces assured, adding that French forces have not released any terrorists.
US Embassy issues security alert
The US Embassy in Niger’s capital Niamey issued a security alert Wednesday advising its citizens to exercise caution and adhere to safety measures in response to ongoing developments in the area.
“The US Embassy advises US citizens to shelter in place, limit unnecessary movements around town, and continue to avoid transiting the downtown and presidential palace area,” it said in a statement.