afrol News, 11 March - The military junta ruling Niger still holds President Mamadou Tandja, overthrown in an 18 February coup, detained amidst international protests. A high-level Nigerien mission to Morocco revives speculations Mr Tandja could be sent there.
Ex-President Tandja has been held captive by the otherwise progressive Nigerien junta since the coup. His continued captivity poses a challenge to the junta's rule in Niger, but also to its image as a force promoting liberty and democracy in the country.
But what to do with the powerful ex-leader?
Soon after the 18 February coup, there were rumours Mr Tandja could be sent to a Moroccan exile. As the rumours extended, the Rabat government sent out a clear statement rejecting any plans to host the Nigerien ex-leader.
Now, speculations about a Moroccan exile for Mr Tandja are again flowing, fuelled by a surprisingly highly levelled Nigerien mission to the Moroccan capital Rabat. Today, Moroccan King Mohammed VI received the large delegation at one of his many royal palaces, in Tétouan, in presence with his Foreign Minister Taib Fassi Fihri.
The Nigerien delegation included Colonel Hassan Moussi, Chief of Air Staff and a leading member of the military junta; Lieutenant Colonel Chaibou Idrissa; and Niger's Education Minister Mahamane Laouali Dan Dah, acting as spokesman of junta leader and acting President Salou Djibo.
Officially, the Nigerien delegation came to Morocco on "an information mission, following the incidents which took place in the country on 18 February," as Colonel Hassan Moussi told the press in Morocco. The delegation only was to inform the Moroccan king "of what Niger's forces intend to do" after having taken power.
Colonel Moussi stressed the need to "stabilise the country's political and economic situation, establish democracy and reconcile the people of Niger," and added that "this is what we came to tell His Majesty and mainly to seek his support to help us with this task."
It is widely speculated that this "support" and "aid" would be for Morocco to kindly receive ex-President Tandja and keep him there.
This is one of the most urgent open questions still facing Niger's military junta to consolidate their power in the country after the coup. Only with Mr Tandja out of the country and him unable to influence political processes, the junta's announced democratisation initiative can start.
Morocco is an easy partner to ask such a favour. The kingdom is known to generously welcome current and toppled African leaders. Further, it is a Muslim country such as Niger, and finally, it is the only African country not a member of the African Union (AU).
And it is just the AU that is causing increasing problems for Niger's junta. Agan today, the body's peace and security chief Ramtane Lamamra demanded Mr Tandja be freed. "It is a constant source of preoccupation for the AU. It is both a moral and a political obligation," Mr Lamamra said after today's AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa.
While the junta has already freed all politicians detained during the coup, including several cabinet members, it has not even let the Red Cross visit Mr Tandja, as it had originally promised. Obviously, the junta wants no talk about the ex-President in Niger and would prefer to see him exiled.
It remains to be seen whether the largest high-level delegation sent out of Niger since the coup managed to convince the Moroccan monarch.
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