Rome: Italian troops will only be sent to Niger at the request of its government and any military mission will fully respect the West African country’s sovereignty, Italy’s Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said on Tuesday.
“The mission can only be despatched if Niger’s government requests it and on a consensual basis.
Once we have Niamey’s authorisation we will undertake whatever action is requested by Niger’s government and which fully respects the country’s sovereignty,” Alfano told a conference on migration from Africa to Europe attended by 13 European and African countries, the EU, the UN and OSCE.
French public radio station RFI on January 26 quoted a local source as saying Niger’s government had not been informed about the 470-strong military mission approved by Italy’s parliament on January 17 and was not in favour of it. Sources at the Italian Foreign Ministry immediately denied the RFI allegations.
Italy’s mission to Niger was announced on December 28 with its soldiers intended to reinforce US and French troops who are already on the ground in Niger and help the country better control its territory and borders, fight the illegal trafficking of migrants and ensure stability in the area.
The Italian government has said it considers Niger a “strategic” partner and in January opened an embassy in Niamey. The embassy is Italy’s first in the Sahel region, which mostly African immigrants first cross to reach Libya and head to Europe.
The planned military mission to Niger and its strengthened cooperation with the African migrant transit country show that bilateral ties are of “strategic importance”, Alfano said.
“I would like to underline the strategic importance of relations with Niger. “This year we have opened a new embassy, which is fully operational, and over the past 12 months we have earmarked over 100 million euros for Niger to build a wide-ranging partnership,” he said, adding he had met his Niger counterpart five times over the past year.