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New US envoy now in Niger, but no policy change: State Dept

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A new US ambassador has arrived in Niamey as diplomatic efforts continue to resolve the political crisis in Niger following last month’s military coup, the State Department announced Saturday.

But Kathleen FitzGibbon will not formally present her credentials to the military government, which the United States does not recognize, the department said in a statement.

“Her arrival does not represent any change in our policy position,” it said, “but responds to the need for senior leadership of our mission at a challenging time.”

It added: “Her diplomatic focus will be to advocate for a diplomatic solution that preserves constitutional order in Niger and for the immediate release of President (Mohamed) Bazoum, his family, and all those unlawfully detained.”

The arrival of FitzGibbon, an experienced Africa hand who was previously the number two in the US embassy in Nigeria, comes just weeks after the US ordered non-essential embassy personnel to leave amid the post-coup crisis.

The United States, along with its Western allies and countries in the West African economic bloc known as ECOWAS, has been closely following events in Niger since the July 26 coup.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly spoken to Bazoum, and his deputy Victoria Nuland paid an unannounced visit to Niamey earlier this month but was unable to meet with coup leader General Abdourahamane Tiani or with Bazoum, who was democratically elected in 2021.

Blinken himself visited Niger in March, the highest-ranking US official ever to do so.

The country has provided a key base for US and French anti-jihadist military operations.

An ECOWAS delegation arrived in Niger on Saturday seeking a peaceful solution, a day after the group’s military chiefs announced they were ready to intervene, if necessary, as a last resort to restore democracy.

The State Department statement Saturday said the US remains “committed to working with African partners” including ECOWAS “to promote security, stability, democratic governance and the rule of law in the Sahel.”

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