ECOWAS to Send Troops to Coup-Hit Mali, Guinea Bissau

Posted April 27th, 2012 at 2:55 am (UTC-5)
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The West-African regional bloc ECOWAS says it will send troops to Mali and Guinea Bissau to monitor the transitions back to civilian rule following recent military coups.

At a special summit in the Ivory Coast on Thursday, ECOWAS said both countries should prepare to hold legislative and presidential elections within a year. It threatened sanctions if coup leaders try to cling to power.

Media reports quoted unnamed officials as saying at least 3,000 ECOWAS soldiers will be sent to Mali, where mutinous soldiers overthrew the country's democratically elected president last month.

Around 600 troops are expected to go to Guinea Bissau, where the army took control on April 12, just weeks before a presidential run-off election.

The 15-member body called on the military leaders in both countries to release people detained during the coups and ensure the safety of ousted officials. ECOWAS commission head Desire Kadre Ouedraogo read the statement to reporters in the Ivory Coast's economic capital of Abidjan.

“The heads of state and 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.”

Earlier this week, Mali's interim leaders announced the formation of a transitional government. But ECOWAS, which helped broker the deal, said Thursday it expects the transition period to last for only 12 months. It also insisted that Mali's toppled president, Amadou Toumani Toure, has the right to return home from exile in Senegal.

Meanwhile, it is uncertain how Guinea Bissau's military leaders will react to the ECOWAS deployment. Last week, a spokesperson for the coup leaders said any foreign troops sent to the country would be considered an invasion force.

ECOWAS has already condemned the plans by Guinea Bissau's military to organize elections in two years, charging that it would go against a previous understanding to immediately restore democracy in the country.