By Maxwell Akalaare Adombila
ACCRA (Reuters) -West Africa’s main regional bloc ECOWAS has agreed a “D-day” for a possible military intervention to restore democracy in Niger if diplomatic efforts fail, a senior official said on Friday, without disclosing when that is.
The official made the comments at the end of a two-day meeting of West African army chiefs in Ghana’s capital Accra, where they have been hashing out the logistics and strategy for a possible use of force in Niger that ECOWAS has said would be a last resort.
“We are ready to go anytime the order is given,” ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Abdel-Fatau Musah said during the closing ceremony. “The D-Day is also decided.”
“We’ve already agreed and fine-tuned what will be required for the intervention,” he said, emphasising that it was still seeking to engage with the junta peacefully.
“As we speak we are still readying (a) mediation mission into the country, so we have not shut any door.”
Military officers deposed Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26 and have defied calls from the United Nations, ECOWAS and others to reinstate him, prompting the bloc to order a standby force to be assembled.
Most of its 15 member states are prepared to contribute to the joint force excepting those also under military rule – Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea – and tiny Cape Verde, an ECOWAS official said on Thursday.
Defence chiefs have declined to say how many troops will be deployed or other strategic details.
Any intervention would further destabilise West Africa’s impoverished Sahel region, which is already battling a decade-old Islamist insurgency.
Niger also has strategic importance beyond West Africa 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.
(Additional reporting by Anait Miridzhanian and Alexander Winning; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Grant McCool)
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