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Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS on Thursday said it will
deploy additional troops to Mali and Guinea-Bissau, in a bid to restore the
democratically elected government sacked in two military coups in both countries.
The sub-regional body also threatened to impose sanctions on the two nations
should the respective military junta decide to cling on to power, according to
Reuters News Agency.
The decision was one of the most forceful moves by the group in recent years,
and won the immediate support of the European Union as a way to reinforce
democratic reform in a part of the world known for military coups and civil wars.
"Overall, we're very supportive of ECOWAS's strong response to the situation in
both countries. It's a response that is shared by the international community,"
said Nick Westcott, EU Managing Director for Africa.
Soldiers in Mali, a country once viewed as a poster-child of democracy in Africa,
overthrew the government in March, while the army of the tiny coastal nation of
Guinea-Bissau seized power and derailed elections with a putsch on April 12.
ECOWAS said it expected both Mali and Guinea-Bissau to hold presidential
elections within 12 months, according to a statement issued after a meeting of
heads of state in Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan.
It called on junta leaders to release people detained during the coups and ensure
the safety of ousted officials, and threatened sanctions, ranging from targeted
individual measures to economic action, if its conditions were not met.
"The heads of state and of government decided to take all the necessary
measures in order to assist Mali in the re-establishment of its unity and of its
territorial integrity," said the statement, read to ECOWAS officials and journalists
late on Thursday.
"To this effect the heads of state and of government instructed the commission to
begin with immediate effect the deployment of the standby force of ECOWAS
conforming to the approved mandate."
It said it would also send a force to Guinea-Bissau.
The body, whose military and economic heavyweight is Nigeria, gave no details
on the size of the deployments, but a Western diplomat told Reuters the
contingent bound for Mali could number between 3,000 and 5,000.
Mali's coup took place as a Tuareg rebellion raged in its vast desert north and
opened the door for the rebels, strengthened by fighters and weapons from
Libya's war, to seize control of the region in the days that followed.
The junta that deposed president Amadou Toumani Toure weeks ahead of
elections meant to replace him has since named a transitional government,
marking one of the first steps toward the restoration of constitutional order.
Toure fled the country for neighbouring Senegal.
In Guinea-Bissau, soldiers detained ex-prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior
weeks ahead of a presidential election run-off that he was expected to win
against rival Kumba Yala. They also detained the interim president, Raimundo
The country's shadowy self-styled Military Command last week announced plans
to set up a transitional government charged with organising elections sometime in
2014, but the proposal was rejected by the United Nations, ECOWAS and the
ECOWAS sources told Reuters on Wednesday the regional body planned to
send a 638-strong regional force to Guinea Bissau within days to protect state
institutions and people - an idea that diplomats said risked triggering conflict.
A spokesman for the Military Command, Daha Bana na Walna, said last week
that any foreign force arriving on Guinea-Bissau soil would be treated as
occupiers. The Military Command sent a delegation to Thursday's ECOWAS
summit, but there was no word on whether the junta would accept the ECOWAS
The former Portuguese colony has suffered several army uprisings since
independence in 1974, but this latest has been a setback to Western efforts to
combat drugs cartels using the country as a stopoff point to Europe.
Armed Forces Chief Antonio Indjai is widely believed to have orchestrated the
coup, though the Military Command has said he was deposed and Indjai himself
has denied involvement.
"Experience has shown that as long as the military have a stranglehold on the
politics of the country, there will be no effective reform, no effective civilian
administration, and no effective efforts to combat the drug trafficking which is
known to be going on," the EU's Westcott said.
"Now is finally an opportunity to remove the military, but clearly it's reluctant to go
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