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The EUCAP development mission was intended to strengthen the security authorities in the fight against extremist violence, drugs, weapons and people smuggling.

Photo: Michael Kappeler / dpa

After a dispute with the military rulers in Niger, the remaining employees of the European civil reconstruction mission in the West African country should leave as quickly as possible.

»In the short term, the EU is forced to accelerate the withdrawal of the EUCAP Sahel Niger mission.

The mission's international staff, who were made available by the EU member states, will return to Europe as quickly as possible," an EU spokeswoman in Brussels told the dpa news agency.

A withdrawal was previously planned by May after the military government in Niger terminated cooperation in December after twelve years.

The EU strongly protested against a raid on the EUCAP headquarters in the capital Niamey last week, during which the police mission's equipment was confiscated.

Transitional government turns away from partners

The development mission with around 120 Europeans was intended to strengthen the security authorities in the fight against extremist violence, drugs, weapons and people smuggling.

After the coup in July, the self-proclaimed transitional government turned away from previous partners, especially former colonial power France.

The mission's branch in the desert town of Agadez on the migration route to the north has already been closed.

For security reasons, the EU did not want to provide any information about how many employees were still in the country to complete the withdrawal.

The head of the mission is the German judge Katja Dominik.

She was temporarily expelled upon entry at the end of January along with other mission employees.

According to dpa information, she recently had to stay at the headquarters of the EU delegation in Niamey for security reasons.

A week ago on Thursday, Nigerien state television reported weapons that were discovered on February 19th in the private home of a French member of EUCAP Sahel.

The EUCAP headquarters was then also searched.

According to the Nigerien military, drones, pistols, semi-automatic weapons, protective equipment and large quantities of ammunition were found there.

The EU spokeswoman described the unannounced raid as unacceptable and a “breach of trust in the entire EU”.

The confiscated equipment, the extent of which she did not provide any information about, was duly reported to the authorities and only met the protection needs of the mission when it was fully operational.

“The EU strongly condemns this new incident,” it said.

The EU is calling on the de facto authorities in Niger to respect the country's commitments.

Niger lies alongside Mali and Burkina Faso in a region that has become a stronghold for Islamist terrorist groups.

It is also one of the most important transit countries for migrants who want to travel to Europe.

Until the military coup in July 2023, the country was considered the last democratic partner of Europe and the USA in the Sahel region.

In response to the coup, the EU stopped its budget support.

For the period from 2021 to 2024 alone, payments totaling at least 503 million euros were planned through a multi-year program.