In his statement Sunday night, the junta spokesman, Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane accused Bazoum of “high treason” and of “undermining the internal and external security of Niger” — charges that could carry the death penalty.
Abdramane said the gathered “necessary evidence” could be used to prosecute Bazoum “before competent national and international authorities.”
The announcement may have further limited the options for the United States, France and regional powers to negotiate a solution hoping to restore the status quo before the military coup. “They’re trying to make it very clear that Bazoum coming back to power is unacceptable to them,” said Andrew Lebovich, a research fellow at the Dutch Clingendael Institute, adding that the announcement also suggests that the junta is “using him as a bargaining chip.”
The Associated Press reported last week that Niger’s coup leaders in private conversations with Western officials threatened to kill Bazoum, who is being held in a basement of his residence, in the event of a military intervention.
In the immediate aftermath of the coup, the leaders of ECOWAS, a regional bloc of countries, had imposed a deadline on the Nigerien junta, giving it one week to restore Bazoum to office. But that deadline passed last week with no signs of military action.
ECOWAS reiterated its warnings after an emergency summit last Thursday, saying that the bloc was mobilizing a standby military force, but it did not provide a timeline or specifics for a possible military intervention.
The situation in Niger was also the subject of a meeting that convened representatives of the African Union on Monday.
The Nigerien junta’s public and private comments on Bazoum’s future appear to underline its confidence that a military intervention remains a slim possibility, amid disagreements in Western and in West African capitals over the best path forward. Talks between U.S. officials and the junta appear to have produced few tangible result so far.
But the frequency of talks between the international community and the Nigerien junta has surprised some observers. Only hours before the possible charges against Bazoum were announced on Sunday night, a religious delegation visiting from neighboring Nigeria put out a statement that raised hopes for de-escalation, saying that the military junta had shown a willingness to engage diplomatically.
Both sides may have an interest in continuing talks. “Even if executed perfectly, a military intervention would be very risky and probably involve significant loss of life,” said Lebovich.
Meanwhile, the military junta appears to be entrenching itself, naming a new government last week and staging rallies in shows of defiance.
Sunday’s announcement may have been part of that pattern, said Lebovich. “They have moved very quickly, implanting themselves and changing the face of the institutions,” he said, adding that the junta had not only replaced the top leadership but also moved to take over state-operated industries in the country of around 25 million.