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  • World - Africa
  • Updated: June 18, 2024

Benin Court sentences Nigerien nationals amid escalating diplomatic rift

Benin Court sentences Nigerien nationals amid escalating dip

A Benin court, on Monday, handed down 18-month suspended jail sentences to three Nigerien nationals who have become central figures in a growing diplomatic conflict between Benin and Niger.

This tension has been exacerbated since the coup that ousted Nigerien President, Mohammed Bazoum last year, with Benin's Atlantic port of Seme-Kpodji, a key export point for Niger’s oil emerging as a contentious area.

The court's decision followed the arrest of five Nigerien individuals earlier this month at the Seme-Kpodji port.

They were detained on charges of illegal entry into the port, a crucial site for Niger’s oil exports given its landlocked status.

The Court for the Repression of Economic Offenses and Terrorism, CRIET, in Benin reclassified the charges against the three Nigeriens, including Moumouni Hadiza Ibra, the Deputy General Director of Wapco-Niger.

Wapco-Niger is a subsidiary of a Chinese firm involved in constructing a pipeline from Niger to Benin's coast. The charges were modified to “usurpation of title and use of falsified computer data.”

These individuals received 18-month suspended sentences, allowing them to avoid immediate imprisonment.

Their arrest and subsequent sentencing highlight the ongoing friction between the two nations, particularly around the strategic port of Seme-Kpodji, which plays a significant role in Niger’s oil export infrastructure.

Wapco has not yet issued any statements in response to the court's ruling or the arrests. 

Lawyers for the three defendants denied all the charges, an AFP correspondent said.

Under regional sanctions imposed on Niger after last year’s coup, Benin closed the border, but it has since reopened its side of the frontier. Niger’s military rulers have refused to reopen their side.

Beninese President Patrice Talon had long conditioned the start of loading of Nigerien oil from Benin’s port on the reopening of the border.

According to Niamey, the arrested team were on a mission to Benin to oversee the loading of oil.

The military regime in Niger described the arrests as a “kidnapping” and said it was ready to “take all measures” to have them released “unconditionally”.

The day after their arrests, the military regime in Niamey closed the valves of the oil pipeline, according to Niger public television.

AFP

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