West African military chiefs were to meet Wednesday to frame a response to the crisis in Niger, a week after the fragile country was shaken by a coup that alarmed its neighbours and prompted France, the former colonial power, to evacuate its citizens. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders on Sunday imposed trade and financial sanctions and gave the coup leaders a week to reinstate Niger’s democratically elected president or face potential use of force. ECOWAS military chiefs were to launch a three-day meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja, coinciding with a visit to Niamey by a delegation led by former Nigerian president Abdulsalami Abubakar, sources said. The current chair of ECOWAS is Nigeria, West Africa’s military and economic superpower. It has vowed to take a firm line against coups that have proliferated across the region since 2020, most of them the outcome of a bloody jihadist insurgency. “We are ready, and as soon as we receive the order to intervene, we will do so,” Nigeria’s chief of staff Christopher Musa said in an interview on RFI Hausa on Monday. But junta-ruled Mali and Burkina Faso warned that any military intervention in their neighbour would be tantamount to a “declaration of war” against them. General Salifou Mody, one of the Nigerien coup leaders, arrived with a delegation in the Malian capital Bamakou on Wednesday, a senior Nigerien official and a Malian security official told AFP. They did not give further details. Mody is a former army chief of staff who was fired by President Mohamed Bazoum in April. Bazoum, 63, was feted in 2021 after winning elections that ushered in the country’s first-ever peaceful transition of power. He took the helm of one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries, burdened by four previous coups since independence from France in 1960. But after surviving two attempted putsches, Bazoum himself was overthrown on July 26 when members of his own guard detained him at the presidency. Their leader, General Abdourahamane Tiani has declared himself leader, but his claim has been condemned internationally. France on Wednesday scheduled more evacuation flights from Niamey following hostile anti-French demonstrations at the weekend. By early Wednesday nearly 500 people had landed in Paris aboard two flights, including mostly French citizens but also Portuguese, Belgians, Nigerians, Ethiopians and Lebanese evacuees. The evacuation was “well organised, it was fairly quick, for me everything went well”, said a man who gave his name as Bernard and had been working in Niger for the European Union for two months. “In Niamey, there are no particular tensions in the city, no particular stress, people go about their business,” he said. Italian authorities also said they had evacuated around 100 foreigners living in Niger, who arrived in Rome early Wednesday, with ANSA radio reporting they included 36 Italians and 21 Americans. Germany has urged its citizens to leave, but the United States — which has 1,100 troops stationed in Niger — has opted to not evacuate Americans for now. The Niger junta announced late Tuesday it had reopened the land and air borders with five neighbouring countries. Nigeria turning the screw on Niger coup leaders: Nigeria, leader of a key West African bloc and a continental economic powerhouse, has intensified its efforts to reverse the coup gripping neighbouring Niger, presenting Abuja with opportunities as well as risks. The ECOWAS bloc, currently chaired by Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, said on Sunday that coup leaders had a week to restore Mohamed Bazoum to Niger’s presidency after he was toppled by his presidential guard. But the organisation took many by surprise when it threatened the possible “use of force” to restore constitutional order. “It’s time for action,” Tinubu said. Nigeria’s chief of staff Christopher Musa echoed the commander in chief, warning in an interview on RFI Hausa that if ordered, his forces were ready to intervene. Burkina Faso and Mali, both led by military officers after coups, have warned that military intervention in Niger to restore Bazoum would be seen “as a declaration of war” against them. Resolving the crisis is a “survival test” for regional leaders, said Confidence MacHarry, a security expert at SBM Intelligence. “If the plotters are allowed to get away with it, other countries will live under the shadow of coups,” he said. Tinubu lived through three decades of military dictatorship before Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 and as such is seen as critical of a coup in a neighbouring country. As Africa’s most populous country with 215 million people, Nigeria will likely want to regain its status as a regional player as well as preventing issues on its soil. “Nigeria would have the most to fear from Niger’s destabilisation as it shares a 1,000-mile border that Nigerian security forces are too overstretched to properly secure,” said James Barnett, a researcher at the Hudson Institute in Washington. Tinubu said he feared a spill over of jihadist groups into Niger and an influx of refugees. Nigeria is already facing widespread insecurity, including criminal gangs in the centre and northwest, jihadist groups in the northeast and separatist unrest in the southeast.