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African neighbors agree to mend broken ties

Already tense relations between Niger and Benin escalated in May due to a border closure dispute

Niger’s military government says it has agreed to talks with Benin to help resolve a border dispute between the two West African countries that has resulted in a blockade of crude oil exports and the shutdown of a China-backed pipeline.

The decision to pursue negotiations was reached last week during a meeting between Nigerien transitional leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani and two former Beninese presidents, Thomas Boni Yayi and Nicephore Soglo, Niger’s government announced on Tuesday.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in a coup last July. Benin enforced the sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Niger, including border closures, in response to the coup. ECOWAS lifted the measures in February.

However, Niger has refused to reopen its borders with Benin, citing security concerns. The military leadership accused Benin of supporting what it claimed was a cross-border invasion planned by ECOWAS and France to restore civilian rule.

Tensions between the neighbors began escalating in May when Benin blocked crude exports from landlocked Niger through its port, demanding that Niamey fully reopen its border to Benin’s goods and normalize relations before shipments could resume.

Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine described the decision to bar Niamey from using the port of Seme Kpodji, located 30km south of Benin’s de facto capital of Cotonou, as a violation of bilateral trade agreements.

Last month, Niamey accused Benin of kidnapping five Nigeriens who were on official duty at the Seme-Kpodji pipeline terminal to supervise and control the loading of an oil shipment. A Beninese special prosecutor had previously reported that the country’s authorities had detained five Nigerien nationals for allegedly entering the terminal under false pretenses.

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FILE PHOTO: Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine.
Tensions escalate between African neighbors over oil blockade

In June, an armed Nigerien rebel group sabotaged the pipeline, resulting in minor damage.

Because Niger relies on Benin for oil shipments, the blockade is expected to jeopardize the country’s plans to begin exporting crude to China under a $400 million commodity-backed agreement with the China National Petroleum Corporation.

China previously initiated mediation talks to resolve the dispute between Niamey and Cotonou, but no agreement was reached.

According to a statement issued on Tuesday, Tchiani informed the Beninese delegation that he was willing to engage in “frank” talks and accepted their suggestion to ease tensions.

“He agreed to the principle of forming a commission comprised of representatives from Niger’s government, Benin’s government and the two visiting former Beninese heads of state,” the government said.

July 04, 2024 at 06:26PM

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