Benin Court Issues Suspended Sentences to Nigeriens Amid Diplomatic Tensions

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A court in Benin has handed down suspended 18-month jail sentences to three Nigeriens, amidst escalating tensions between Benin and Niger following last year’s coup in Niger. The diplomatic dispute has particularly centered on Benin’s Seme-Kpodji port, crucial for exporting landlocked Niger’s oil.

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The Court for the Repression of Economic Offenses and Terrorism (CRIET) in Benin delivered the sentence on Monday, following the arrest of five Nigeriens earlier this month at Seme-Kpodji on charges of illegal entry into the port.

Moumouni Hadiza Ibra, Deputy General Director of Wapco-Niger, a local affiliate of a Chinese company managing a pipeline from Niger to Benin’s coast, was among those sentenced, along with two compatriots. The charges against them were reclassified as “usurpation of title and use of falsified computer data.”

The defendants’ legal representatives vehemently denied all allegations during the proceedings.

Benin had previously closed its border with Niger as part of regional sanctions imposed after the coup, although Benin has since reopened its side. However, Niger’s military leaders have yet to reciprocate, contributing to ongoing bilateral tensions.

President Patrice Talon of Benin had conditioned the resumption of Nigerien oil loading at Benin’s port on the reopening of the border by Niger.

According to reports from Niamey, the Nigerien team arrested in Benin was purportedly on a mission related to overseeing the loading of oil.

The sentencing underscores the complex diplomatic relations and economic interdependencies between the two West African nations amid ongoing political uncertainties in Niger.

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