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Benin arrests five Nigeriens in escalating diplomatic standoff

todayJune 7, 2024 6

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Police officers check a motorists, on December 17, 2020 at the Benin-Nigeria border city of Krake, one day after Nigeria announced the lifting of borders’ closure. – Nigeria is lifting the closure of borders with neighbouring Benin and Niger which it imposed in 2019 to curb smuggling of rice and other commodities, the government said on December 16, 2020. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP) (Photo by YANICK FOLLY/AFP via Getty Images)





Benin authorities have arrested five Nigeriens at a port where Niger loads oil for export, sharply escalating a growing diplomatic dispute between the two West African nations.

Five Nigerien nationals were arrested at the port of Seme-Kpodji on Wednesday evening after “entering the site without disclosing their identity”, according to a statement from Elonm Mario Metonou, the special prosecutor at CRIET, Benin’s court for financial crimes and terrorism.

Relations between Niamey and Porto-Novo have been tense since the military coup in Niger which overthrew the elected president Mohamed Bazoum last July, leading to a West African bloc to impose sanctions and temporarily shut trade.

But the diplomatic tensions have grown into a standoff for several months with the reopening of the border and the loading of Nigerien oil in Beninese waters via the oil pipeline inaugurated in November and managed by China’s Wapco.

Nigerien authorities still refuse to open their side of the border with the Benin, while Porto-Novo has conditioned the loading of Nigerien oil in its waters on the full reopening of the frontier.

Beninese national television on Wednesday announced “the lifting of the Beninese blockade” on Nigerien oil and affirmed that “the tap on the Benin-Niger pipeline is unblocked again”, leaving the way clear “for loading oil”, suggesting a softening of Benin’s position.

But the arrest of the five Nigeriens on Wednesday evening could further fuel tensions.

“To justify this fraudulent entry onto the site, the interested parties indicated that they were all employees of WAPCO Niger whose badges they displayed,” detailed the Beninese prosecutor.

But “at least two of these people are Nigerien agents in the service of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP)” who “had fake WAPCO Niger employee badges made for the occasion”.

CNSP is the group of military leaders now running Niger after the coup.

The prosecutor specified that “the investigations are continuing”.

On Thursday evening, Niger’s ministers of justice and oil confirmed “the arrest” of the “deputy general director of Wapco”, Ibra Hadiza, and “four engineers on a supervisory mission”.

Oil Minister Mahamane Moustapha Barke accused Benin of “violating agreements” on the transport of crude oil from Niger via the Beninese port.

According to Barke, these agreements indicate that loading operations must be carried out in the presence of Beninese, Nigerien and Chinese officials.

Barke said that the Benin authorities had “decided to prevent the Nigerien party from accessing the installations”.

“We cannot accept that these loadings take place under these conditions,” he said.

General Abdourahamane Tiani, head of the military regime in power in Niger, had given instructions to stop the Koulele pumping station in northeastern Niger if the members of the team were not released, he said.




Written by: Staff Writer

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