Niger’s military rulers have asked for help from the Russian mercenary group, Wagner as the deadline set by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the release of the country’s detained president draws near.
ECOWAS had given the coup plotters a seven-day ultimatum last Sunday to release the president or face possible military intervention by the West African regional bloc.
Al Jazeera reports that the request came during a visit by a coup leader – General Salifou Mody – to neighbouring Mali, where he made contact with someone from Wagner, Wassim Nasr, a journalist and senior research fellow at the Soufan Center, told The Associated Press.
Three Malian sources and a French diplomat confirmed the meeting first reported by France 24, Nasr added.
“They need [Wagner] because they will become their guarantee to hold onto power,” he said, adding the private military company is considering the request.
Niger’s military government faces a Sunday deadline set by the regional bloc known as ECOWAS to release and reinstate the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, who has described himself as a hostage.
Defence chiefs from ECOWAS members finalised an intervention plan on Friday and urged militaries to prepare resources after a mediation team sent to Niger on Thursday was not allowed to enter or meet with military government leader General Abdourahmane Tchiani.
After his visit to Mali, run by a sympathetic military government, Mody warned against military intervention, promising Niger would do what it takes not to become “a new Libya”, Niger’s state television reported.
Niger has been seen as the West’s last reliable counterterrorism partner in a region where coups have been common in recent years. Military leaders have rejected former coloniser France and turned towards Russia.
Wagner operates in a handful of African countries, including Mali, where human rights groups have accused its forces of deadly abuses.