A former rebel leader and politician in Niger Republic has launched a movement opposing the military government that took power after the July 26 coup, a first sign of internal resistance to army rule in the strategically important Sahel country.

In a statement on Wednesday, Rhissa Ag Boula said his new Council of Resistance for the Republic aims to reinstate overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum who has been in detention at his residence since the takeover.

“Niger is the victim of a tragedy orchestrated by people charged with protecting it,” the statement said.

The announcement comes as diplomatic efforts to reverse the coup have stalled after the military government rejected the latest diplomatic mission from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.

Niger’s coup leaders denied entry to the African and United Nations envoys on Tuesday, resisting pressure to negotiate before a summit on Thursday at which heads of state from the ECOWAS will discuss the possible use of force.

Ag Boula’s statement said it supports ECOWAS and any other international actors seeking to restore constitutional order in Niger, adding that it would make itself available to the bloc for any useful purpose.

Another CRR member said several Nigerien political figures had joined the group but could not make their allegiance public for safety reasons.

Boula played a leading role in the uprisings by Tuaregs, a nomadic ethnic group present in Niger’s desert north, in the 1990s and 2000s. Like many former rebels, he was integrated into government under Bazoum and his predecessor Mahamadou Issoufou.

While the extent of support for the CRR is unclear, Boula’s statement will worry the coup leaders given his influence among Tuaregs who control commerce and politics in much of the vast north.

Support from Tuaregs will be key to be securing the military government’s control beyond Niamey’s city limits.

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