France in talks with Niger officials over troops withdrawal - Le Monde

FILE PHOTO: Pro-Bazoum demonstrators gather outside Niger's embassy, in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - France has started talks with some Niger army officials over withdrawing some troops from the African country following a coup in July, Le Monde reported on Tuesday.

At this stage, neither the number of French soldiers involved nor the timing of their departure have been decided, Le Monde said, citing several unidentified French sources close to the matter.

The talks are not being held with putsch leaders, but with regular army officials with whom France has long cooperated, the newspaper said.

Following the coup, France, the former colonial power in Niger, said it would end military cooperation and cut all development aid to the country.

But Paris had so far rejected calls by the putsch leaders to withdraw the 1,500 French troops currently in Niger, saying it still regards democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, currently held prisoner, as the country's legitimate leader.

The French defence ministry did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside a French military base in Niger's capital Niamey last Saturday demanding that its troops leave.

According to Le Monde, some French troops could be redeployed in the region, notably in neighbouring Chad, while others could return to France. But a withdrawal from Niger would be a blow to France's influence in the region, after having had to leave Mali, where Russian mercenaries have moved in.

Niger has been a security partner of France and the United States, which have used it as a base to fight an Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa's wider Sahel region.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel and Michel Rose; Editing by Mike Harrison)