© Reuters. The French nationals and other European citizens who have been evacuated from Niger, days after a junta seized power in the West African country, react as they arrive at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport in Roissy, near Paris, France, August 2, 2023. RE
By Manuel Ausloos and Antonio Denti
PARIS/ROME (Reuters) – Military planes carrying hundreds of European nationals evacuated from Niger landed in Paris and Rome on Wednesday as France and Italy fly their citizens out of the West African country after a coup last week.
Those arriving in Rome included 21 U.S. citizens, a number of whom were part of an evangelical Christian group from Texas, according to the Italian Foreign Ministry.
A military junta overthrew Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum and his government on July 26 in the seventh military takeover in less than three years in West and Central Africa.
With the risk of conflict escalating, France, the former colonial power, Italy and Spain said they would evacuate citizens by air.
The first two French flights left Niger on Tuesday evening and landed in Paris early on Wednesday with more than 350 French people on board, as well as citizens of a number of other nations, the foreign ministry in Paris said.
“Things could have turned ugly but it still is nice to be back here,” a French evacuee who gave his name as Charles told Reuters TV.
“We will see how things evolve over there in the coming days and weeks. For us, who care about it quite a lot, we will follow this closely,” he said.
An Italian military flight carrying 87 evacuees from Niger arrived in Rome before dawn on Wednesday, according to Reuters journalists at the airport, with Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani greeting the arrivals as they came down the steps from the plane.
Tajani told Rainews24 that around 40 Italians had opted to remain in Niger, most of them experienced NGO staff who know the country well.
Shawn Crowley, the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, thanked Italy for its help in getting the Americans out.
“They had a very traumatic experience,” Crowley said. “So it’s really been fantastic to have the citizens brought to safety.”
Some 36 Italians, four Bulgarians, two Austrians and one citizen each from Britain, Niger, Hungary, Senegal and Nigeria were also on the plane, as well as military personnel.
The recent coups in the region have come amid a wave of vitriol aimed at France that resulted in its troops having to withdraw from Mali and Burkina Faso this year and last.
Many of those soldiers are stationed in Niger.
The United States, Germany, and Italy also have troops in Niger on counterinsurgency and training missions.
“It is a fragile context (in Niger),” said Bianca Ghiselli, from Italian NGO Doctors for Human Rights.
“So obviously this situation is complex, it is a tense situation that we hope will be resolved as much as possible,” she added as she returned to Rome.