Mon. Jun 24th, 2024

Benin invites media verification amid Niger junta claims

Senator Iroegbu

France has refuted reports of a secret deployment of troops in the Benin Republic aimed at countering the government in the Niger Republic. The French Embassy in Nigeria dismissed the allegations as baseless, clarifying that the aircraft mentioned in the reports is not a French military aircraft and has no connection to France. The embassy stressed that French security and defense cooperation is conducted in full respect of sovereignty and based on partnerships.

A senior officer at the French Embassy, speaking anonymously, confirmed that there are no French military bases in Benin and that their cooperation with Benin is transparently detailed on the embassy’s website. The Beninese government spokesperson also denied the presence of French military operations, inviting the Nigerian government and media to verify the absence of such bases.

The controversy underscores growing tensions between Benin and Niger, with both countries exchanging accusations. The Beninese government has invited independent media to verify their claims, challenging the Nigerien government to provide evidence of French military bases in Benin.

A popular Nigerian daily, in an article titled “French Military Transport Plane Drops Off French Soldiers in Benin Republic,” alleged that France had taken these measures following the expulsion of its troops from Niger. This report follows allegations by the military junta in Niamey that France has set up a military base in Benin to enforce the continued border closures between the two neighboring West African countries.

In response, the French Embassy in Nigeria described the report as baseless, unfounded, and part of a growing disinformation campaign aimed at sustaining anti-French sentiment.

Part of the statement read: “The French Embassy wishes to inform the public that the aircraft mentioned in this article is not a French military aircraft, nor does it have connections to France. Furthermore, Beninese and French authorities have denied the existence of French military bases or plans to establish French military bases in Benin on multiple occasions in the last months, in the context of growing disinformation campaigns on that topic.

“In every country, French security and defense cooperation is based on a partnership of equals and full respect for sovereignty. Any action or program is carried out with the full agreement of relevant authorities. We remain available to answer questions from journalists and hope Leadership will take these clarifications into consideration.”

A senior officer of the French Embassy, speaking anonymously, added: “Most of the information in this article is fake. We have no military bases in Benin. Our cooperation with Benin is not hidden but explained in detail on our embassy website, (https://bj.ambafrance.org/-Cooperation-de-defense-), so if we were trying to hide it, we would be doing a terrible job. As with all French military cooperation, it is based on a request from the partner country and done with the utmost respect for its sovereignty.

“Niamey authorities have never demonstrated the ineffectiveness of military cooperation with France: cooperation was working very well before the July 2023 coup and yielding good results. Accusing us of training terrorists, as the current Nigerian Prime Minister is doing, is ridiculous. I can’t understand why the media would report that without disproving it.”

Earlier, Beninese government spokesperson Mr. Wilfried Houngbédji refuted the alleged presence of French military operations that would justify the continued closure of Niger’s border with Benin. He invited the junta leader, General Tiani, and independent media from Niger to verify on-site the absence of such bases.

“A military base is not a needle in a haystack after all! The Prime Minister can deploy the satellite resources he wants with his current military allies to check if we have a military base,” Houngbédji stated.

Houngbédji also clarified the distinction between “Fortified Forward Points” and military bases, affirming that Benin has several military camps intended to ensure national security and combat terrorism. These installations are known to everyone, and more are planned, particularly in border communities.

“Now, if he talks about our Fortified Forward Points, the small military camps that we have built to secure our country and fight against terrorism, that’s something else. We have around twenty of them, with more planned. There are some in our border communes, and the Head of State spoke about it two years ago in a message on the state of the nation; it’s known to everyone,” clarified Houngbédji.

This is why, he noted, the Beninese government has invited General Tiani to send independent media to verify their claims. “They should come and see if there is a base here,” he challenged.

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