© Sam Mednick/APNigerien national guardsmen sit outside the customs offices in Niamey
Niger's military junta has asked the French ambassador to leave the country, the nation's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said. The move further escalates the international crisis in the West African nation stemming from a coup that ousted its democratically-elected president.

French ambassador Sylvain Itte was asked to leave Niger within 48 hours in a letter that accused him of ignoring an invitation for a meeting with the ministry.

The letter dated Friday August 25, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press, also cited "actions of the French government contrary to the interests of Niger" as among the reasons for Mr Itte's expulsion.

Niger, a former French colony, was France's partner before last month's coup in the fight against jihadi violence.

Niger's junta also authorised troops from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso to come to its defence, raising the stakes in a stand-off with other West African nations who are threatening force to reinstate ousted president Mohamed Bazoum.
© Sam Mednick/AP

The junta leader, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, signed two executive orders authorising the "security forces of Burkina Faso and Mali to intervene on Niger territory in the event of aggression," senior junta official Oumarou Ibrahim Sidi said late on Thursday, after hosting a delegation from the two countries in the Nigerien capital, Niamey.

Mr Sidi did not provide further details about the military support from the two countries whose military regimes have said any use of force by the West African bloc ECOWAS against Niger's junta would be treated as an act of war against their own nations.

Before last month's ousting Mr Bazoum, Niger was seen as the West's last major partner against jihadi violence in the Sahel region below the Sahara Desert, which is rife with anti-French sentiment.

The French Embassy in Niamey was attacked in the early days of the July 26 coup. The military leaders of the coup have requested help from private Russian military company Wagner to stem extremist attacks. The status of the request following the death of Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash this week is unknown. ECOWAS said on Friday that along with the African Union, it "stands against the use of private military contractors".

The junta's agreement with Mali and Burkina Faso was the latest of several actions taken by Niger's mutinous soldiers to defy sanctions and consolidate a junta they have said would rule for up to three years, further escalating the crisis after last month's coup in the country of more than 25 million people.

The ECOWAS Commission president, Omar Alieu Touray, said the bloc's threat to use force to reinstate Mr Bazoum was "still on the table", rejecting the junta's three-year transition plan.

Eleven of the bloc's 15 countries, not including the military-ruled countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger itself, have expressed commitments to deploy troops to restore democracy in Niger once a decision is made to intervene.

The bloc would in the meantime continue to explore diplomatic options to reverse the coup, Mr Touray told reporters in Nigeria's capital city of Abuja.

The latest of such diplomatic efforts came when Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who is the chairman of the regional bloc, sent a delegation of Islamic leaders to speak with the junta.

Mr Touray said the West African heads of state would decide on when to use force whenever it feels like all diplomatic means have failed.

"ECOWAS cannot just fold its hands," he asserted.