The West African group ECOWAS is threatening sanctions and a possible military response to the coup by renegade soldiers last week in Mali.
ECOWAS said Tuesday it would send a delegation of at least five heads of state within the next 48 hours to try to negotiate a return to the country's constitutional, elected leadership. The member states said they are considering “all options” to end the crisis, and said a peacekeeping force is on standby, ready for deployment.
Spokesman Sonny Ugoh told VOA the regional leaders want to send a message that coups will not be tolerated.
“We want make them as uncomfortable as possible. We want to demonstrate to them that there can be no reward for this kind of behavior, not just in their own case, but also as an example to others who might want to tow this line of adventurism, to discourage such behavior.”
He said the regional bloc believes the junta will cede under pressure.
“We believe that they will see the handwriting on the wall. We believe that they will understand the gravity of the situation and the enormity of what confronts them.”
The coup leaders announced a new constitution Tuesday. The document, read on national television, includes provisions protecting freedom of speech and says no junta member will be eligible for election.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Peter Henry Balerin told VOA he had spoken to coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, urging him to immediately return power to Mali's elected leaders and to allow elections to be held as soon as possible.
Balerin said he also reminded Sanogo the United States will only help the Malian military if power is returned to civilian authorities.
“And I explained to him that, unfortunately, there are things he wanted, and some are legitimate, that Malian soldiers be well-trained and well-equipped. And the U.S. is Mali's number one partner in this domain. So if he wants the soldiers to be better trained and better equipped, he must absolutely cede power so that the U.S., France, and other partners could continue their programs supplying training and equipment.
The mutinous soldiers seized power last Thursday from President Amadou Toumani Touré, saying it was in order to launch a more effective response to an ethnic Tuareg rebellion in the north.
President Touré was due to step down in the coming weeks after serving two terms. A presidential election had been scheduled for late April.
The new leaders issued a call for negotiations with the Tuaregs, but a top rebel leader told VOA Tuesday they would only consider opening the discussion if Malian troops leave the three main cities in the territory the rebels claim .
Abdoul Karim Ag Matafa, president of the MNLA revolutionary council, also said the core of any negotiations would be self-determination for northern Mali.
“The only basis for negotiations is the self-determination of Azawad .”
The African Union has suspended Mali. The United Nations, the U.S. and other countries have called for a return to constitutional order.
The United States, France and the European Union have halted non-humanitarian aid to Mali. The United States has warned travelers to stay away from Mali and suggested U.S. citizens consider leaving temporarily.