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West Africa bloc to negotiate with Niger junta on return to democracy

FILE PHOTO: The Independent National Electoral Commission declares Bola Tinubu winner of Nigeria's 2023 presidential elections in Abuja

By Felix Onuah

ABUJA (Reuters) -West Africa's regional bloc ECOWAS on Sunday set up a committee of three leaders to negotiate with Niger's military junta on a transition to democratic rule and to consider easing sanctions, a communique said after an annual summit.

Niger in July became the latest Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member to undergo a coup when soldiers from the presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum and set up what they called a transitional government, one of a series of government overthrows in West Africa's Sahel region.

At Sunday's summit in Nigerian capital Abuja, ECOWAS decided to set up a committee of leaders from Togo, Sierra Leone and Benin to engage the Niger junta to agree "on a short transition roadmap" and work "towards the speedy restoration of constitutional order".

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"Based on the outcomes of the engagement by the committee of heads of state with the (Niger junta) the authority will progressively ease the sanctions imposed on Niger," ECOWAS said.

The regional body added that if the Niger junta failed to comply with the outcomes of the engagement, the sanctions would be maintained, including the possible use of force.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who is ECOWAS chairman, earlier said the bloc should try to re-engage with regional countries under military rule and support them to achieve "realistic and short" transitions to democracy.

After the Niger July coup, authorities in Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone said in the last two weeks they had also thwarted coup attempts.

Tinubu said ECOWAS should be prepared to provide military juntas with technical and material support to achieve transition goals.

ECOWAS has imposed a series of economic sanctions on the juntas which are hurting the poor and should be removed, the military governments say.

Tinubu also said ECOWAS would review a move by some member states under military rule to form a security alliance.

Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in September signed a security pact promising to come to the aid of each other in case of any rebellion or external aggression.

(Reporting by writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Nick Macfie)