The new military rulers had demanded the withdrawal of the French ambassador and troops after President Macron refused to recognize the coup.
French President Emmanuel Macron said his country would withdraw its ambassador and troops from Niger following the July coup that toppled democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum.
“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. “In the next few hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France,” Macron said in a television interview on Sunday.
He added that military cooperation had “ended” and that French troops would be leaving “in the coming months and weeks,” with a full withdrawal “by the end of the year.”
France has stationed around 1,500 soldiers at its base in Niger and rejected a request from the new military rulers to withdraw its ambassador.
Thousands of people have protested in the capital Niamey in recent weeks, including outside a military base housing French soldiers. The new rulers had demanded the withdrawal of the French ambassador and troops after Macron refused to recognize the coup.
The development comes as French troops have also been asked to leave their former colonies of Mali and Burkina Faso.
“This is definitely a small victory for the interim government and perhaps an embarrassment for the French who have seen Mali, Burkina Faso and now a third country in the Sahel where they are being asked to leave by the current government.”, said Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Senegal’s capital Dakar.
“He [the French ambassador] was effectively held hostage in the embassy. The Nigerian security forces did not allow anyone in or out. He survived on food rations at the embassy.”
The regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions after the July coup and warned it could intervene militarily as a last resort if diplomatic efforts to return Bazoum to power fail. But ECOWAS tempered its rhetoric as regional countries threw their weight behind the new military rulers.
The three Sahel countries – Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, all of which have witnessed coups in recent years – signed a mutual defense pact on September 16 against possible threats of armed rebellion or external aggression.
With tensions rising, Macron said he told the ousted Bazoum on Sunday that “France has decided to bring back its ambassador and in the coming hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France.”
Macron reiterated France’s position that Bazoum was being held “hostage” and remained the “sole legitimate authority” in the country.
“He was targeted in this coup because he made bold reforms and there was a largely ethnic reckoning and a lot of political cowardice,” he said.
Macron noted that France’s military presence in Niger was in response to a request from the then Nigerian government.
Niger’s military rulers ended military cooperation with France after the coup after claiming that Bazoum’s government was not doing enough to protect the country from the armed insurgency in the country’s west, part of the semi-arid Sahel region.
Over the last decade, the Sahel region, which stretches across central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and western Niger, has become the epicenter of violence by armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).
Western countries had partnered with Bazoum to counter the growing influence of armed groups and provided millions of dollars in military aid and support to strengthen the Nigerian armed forces.
Meanwhile, the military government on Friday accused United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of “obstructing” the West African country’s full participation in the UN’s annual meeting of world leaders in order to appease France and its allies.