By Boureima Balima
NIAMEY (Reuters) - The junta in Niger has ordered its armed forces to go on highest alert, citing an increased threat of attack, according to an internal document issued by its defence chief on Friday that a security source in the country confirmed was authentic.
The document, which was shared widely online on Saturday, said the order to be on maximum alert would allow forces to respond adequately in case of any attack and "avoid a general surprise".
"Threats of aggression to the national territory are increasingly being felt," it said.
The main West African bloc ECOWAS has been trying to negotiate with the leaders of the July 26 coup, but has said it is ready to deploy troops to restore constitutional order if diplomatic efforts fail.
On Friday, the bloc downplayed this threat and said it was "determined to bend backwards to accommodate diplomatic efforts," although an intervention remained one of the options the table.
"For the avoidance of doubt, let me state unequivocally that ECOWAS has neither declared war on the people of Niger, nor is there a plan, as it is being purported, to invade the country, ECOWAS Commission President Omar Alieu Touray told reporters.
The bloc's decision earlier in August to activate a so-called standby force for a possible intervention has raised fears of an escalation that could further destabilise the insurgency-torn Sahel region.
(Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by David Holmes)