French official held captive for 5 days by Niger’s junta released
A French official detained in Niger last week has been released, the French government said Thursday. The arrest heightened tensions between France and Niger, where military officers deposed an elected president last month and ordered French officials to leave.
France’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Stephane Jullien, counselor for French citizens abroad, was released Wednesday, five days after he was arrested. It didn’t provide details about the release, or about the reason for his arrest. The French government had urged his liberation.
Military officers in Niger overthrew and detained elected President Mohamed Bazoum in July and last month ordered the French ambassador to leave the country. France, Niger’s former colonial ruler, has refused to heed the order, saying that the junta isn’t the country’s legitimate authority.
French Ambassador Sylvain Itte was asked to leave Niger in a letter from the Nigerien Foreign Ministry that accused him of ignoring an invitation for a meeting with the ministry. The letter also cited “actions of the French government contrary to the interests of Niger.”
Nearly 1,500 French troops are based in Niger to help local forces fight Islamic extremists. However, the military cooperation has been suspended since the coup, whose leaders claimed that Bazoum’s government wasn’t doing enough to protect the country from the insurgency.
The junta is now under sanctions by Western and regional African powers.