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Russian air defence system, trainers arrive in Niger

Africa
 French military at the Ouallam military base north of Niamey in Niger. [AFP]

Russian military instructors have arrived in Niger with an air defence system and other equipment as part of the West African nation's deepening security ties with Moscow, state television announced late Thursday.

Niger's military government agreed in January to step up military cooperation with Russia, after expelling French forces that were helping fight jihadist rebellions in several Sahel nations.

The Tele Sahel broadcaster showed a Russian transport plane arriving at Niamey airport on Wednesday night. It said "the latest military equipment and military instructors from the Russian defence ministry" had arrived.

Russia will help "install an air defence system ... to ensure complete control of our airspace", the report said.

One instructor was quoted as saying that "We are here to train the Niger army and help it use the equipment that has just arrived. The equipment is  for different military specialities."

The head of Niger's military government, General Abdourahamane Tiani, spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 26.

The two leaders discussed security cooperation as well as "global strategic cooperation" against "current threats", authorities said at the time, without elaborating.

Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, had been a frontline partner of the West in battling jihadists in the Sahel but has turned to Russia since the elected president was ousted last year.

Niger has also joined neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso - also ruled by military leaders after coups - to create a joint force to battle long-running jihadist insurgencies.

The United States has some 1,000 troops in Niger though their movements have been limited since the coup and Washington has curbed assistance to the government.

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