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Crisis in Niger causes renewed tensions between Algeria and France

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The coup d’état in Niger has provoked the umpteenth crisis between Algeria and France, notes Spanish ‘Atalayar’ magazine.

It all started after an Algerian public radio announced that Algiers had refused permission for French military aircraft to fly over Algerian airspace. As the media outlet recalled, Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s government has expressed its rejection of any foreign military intervention in Niger, including one led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Despite not being part of the African bloc, Algeria has opposed an ECOWAS military operation in the country. On the contrary, it has emphasised the role of diplomacy in bringing about a peaceful solution to the crisis that has gripped Niger since last July’s coup d’état.

Algeria’s position on Niger and the role of ECOWAS is directly related to the country’s national interests. According to an Algerian government source quoted by Reuters, Algeria is opposed to any military intervention for fear of an influx of migrants into its territory.

Niger and Algeria share a border of almost 1,000 kilometres. “We oppose the coup d’état, but we are against military action that would aggravate the situation in Niger and throughout the Sahel,” the source told the news agency.

Shortly after the Algerian radio reports, the French army general staff denied the news, denying that it had asked Algeria for authorisation to fly over its territory with a view to a possible military intervention in Niger. Paris, unlike Algiers, supports ECOWAS’ decisions and line on the Sahelian country, where France has some 1,500 troops. “The General Staff invalidates France’s request to fly over Algerian territory and therefore the refusal of the Algerian authorities,” French military officials told Reuters.

According to analysts consulted by Al-Arab, Algeria leaked the news of an alleged French request to use its airspace in order to show Paris the relevance of Algiers in salvaging its eroded influence in the Sahel and Sahara region.

Algeria has already used its airspace on other occasions in order to put pressure on Paris. During the autumn of 2021, following the outbreak of a diplomatic crisis between the two countries due to statements by Macron that Algeria considered “offensive and shameful”, Algiers decided to close its airspace to French military aviation. This was a major setback for Paris, as the flight to Niger or Mali via Algeria takes no more than four hours, while another route can take up to ten hours.