NIAMEY (Reuters) - The head of Niger's ruling military junta has arrested two senior officers from within his ranks on suspicion of conspiring to overthrow him, security sources told Reuters on Saturday.
The arrests show division within the junta that could pose a threat to a planned return to civilian rule next year in the uranium-producing West African state.
"Colonels Badie and Sidikou have been arrested and are detained in the national security headquarters as part of a probe into a plot against the state," a high-ranking officer who asked not to be named told Reuters.
Abdoulaye Badie was the second-in-charge of the junta and Abdou Sidikou was a top commander in the national guard. There was no immediate comment from either officer.
The junta, led by General Salou Djibo, has been in power in Niger since a dramatic February putsch against former President Mamadou Tandja who had angered many Nigeriens for altering the constitution to lengthen his rule.
Djibo has since won international plaudits for pledging a return to civilian rule within one year.
An official at West African regional bloc ECOWAS said on Friday he was aware of rumours of arrests within the junta but had been assured by Djibo the talk was unfounded. The junta has not commented publicly.
A senior police official told Reuters Badie and Sidikou were arrested for having planned to unseat Djibo in September during his trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He did not say how the alleged plot was discovered.
Djibo has also sacked his minister of equipment, Amadou Diallo, according to an announcement on national television on Friday. No reason was given.
Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, is drawing billions of dollars of investment from French power firm Areva and China National Petroleum Corp, among other companies.
If the transition to civilian rule in Niger is successful, Niger could be the second country in the West African region in less than a year. Guinea is due to hold its presidential run-off on October 24.