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Niger accepts foreign forces from Mali to combat jihadist threat

Dakar 18/2  – Niger has accepted that French and European special forces will cross into its territory from neighbouring Mali to combat jihadists and try to secure the border with the West African state, Niger’s president said on Twitter on Friday.

In his first comments since France said on Thursday that it would leave Mali along with its military allies, President Mohamed Bazoum said the forces would be able to respond to threats from jihadist militants groups in the area.

Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have struggled to contain the marauding armed groups that have killed hundreds, displaced millions and made swathes of territory in the tri-borderWest African Sahel area ungovernable.

“This area will be even more infested and the terrorist groups will strengthen. We know that they are destined to extend their influence,” Bazoum said.

Bazoum said countries, including those in the coastal areas that participated in the discussions on Wednesday in Paris, were unanimous in their decision which would lead to the presence of foreign troops in a number of countries who request it.

Benin and other coastal states have seen increased attacks in recent weeks from militants along the border area with the Sahel countries.

The government of Benin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But accepting foreign troops poses a challenge for governments in the region which have seen increased protests against foreign military presence.

A French military convoy travelling from Ivory Coast to Mali was held up for several days late last year in Burkina Faso and Niger, with French troops firing shots and warplanes dropping flares to warn off civilians blocking it. read more

Maïkol Zodi, a leader of a movement that has been leading protests against foreign troops in Niger, said on Thursday that their presence was illegal.

“It is unacceptable and intolerable to accept this redeployment on our territory. If they do, we will treat them as an occupying force,” Zodi said.