The military leaders in Niger welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron's announcement on Sunday to withdraw its ambassador and troops from the West African country, two months after a coup that toppled President Mohamed Bazoum.
During an interview with French television on Sunday, Macron announced the withdrawal of the French ambassador and troops from Niger, something that Niger's military leaders had been demanding after Macron refused to recognize the coup leaders who detained Bazoum on July 26. There had also been mass rallies in Niger calling for French troops to leave their country.
"France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next few hours, our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France," Macron said in the interview.
Macron did not provide details of his plan, but said military cooperation with Niger was "over" and the 1,500 French troops stationed in Niger would withdraw in "the months and weeks to come", with a full pullout by the end of the year.
Ten days earlier, Macron said the French ambassador and his staff members were "literally being held hostage" in the embassy, eating military rations with no food deliveries.
Niger's military leaders welcomed the decision in a statement announced on national TV shortly after Macron's decision.
"This Sunday, we celebrated a new step toward the sovereignty of Niger," the statement said.
France's troops pulled out of Mali last year after a 2020 coup and then withdrew from Burkina Faso in February this year following the ultimatum by coup leaders weeks earlier.
Niger's military leaders announced an end to military cooperation with France following the coup, saying that Bazoum's government did not do enough to protect the country from the armed rebellion in the country's west.
The Economic Community of West African States imposed sanctions following the coup and threatened to intervene militarily if diplomatic efforts to restore Bazoum failed. But the threat, backed by France, never materialized since several countries in the region supported the coup leaders in Niger.
Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso even formed a mutual defense pact on Sept 16 against possible threats of armed rebellion and external aggression.
The Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar announced early on Sunday that Niger's military leaders had banned French aircraft from flying over the country's airspace.
In August, Niger's new military leaders gave a 48-hour ultimatum for the French ambassador Sylvain Itte to leave the country, but the French government rejected the call and insisted that it did not recognize the coup leaders.