West African Leaders Ready to Send Forces to Mali, Warn Guinea-Bissau

Posted May 3rd, 2012 at 9:05 pm (UTC-5)
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West Africa's regional bloc said Thursday it is ready to deploy forces to Mali, where a military junta deposed the legitimate civilian government in March.

Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the president of the commission of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, said the group intended to send forces as soon as the Malian authorities request them.

Ouedraogo made the announcement late Thursday after hours of closed-door meetings in the Senegalese capital Dakar, aimed at resolving the political impasses in both Mali and Guinea-Bissau following recent military coups.

Regional leaders have said they would not permit the military to impose its will on the people anywhere in the region.

They requested that the transitional Malian government of interim President Dioncounda Traore prepare a plan for the organizing of elections and recommended that Guinea-Bissau's national assembly resume office.

They also called for the deployment of a regional military force in Guinea-Bissau to oversee the withdrawal of an Angolan technical assistance mission, ensure the security of the transition and help with security sector reform.

The bloc welcomed the release of Carlos Gomes Junior, Guinea-Bissau's former prime minister and presidential election front-runner, and ousted interim President Raimundo Pereira, who were arrested by soldiers during last month's coup. But the group also demanded the release of all other people still detained illegally in the country.

ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Guinea-Bissau earlier this week, after the junta there refused to allow Mr. Pereira to resume power and manage the return to civilian rule.

Guinea-Bissau has endured numerous coups and coup attempts during the past 30 years and has become a transit point for international drug traffickers.

Soldiers in Mali seized power in March, accusing ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure of failing to properly equip the army to fight a Tuareg rebellion in the north. They defeated an attempt by loyalist troops this week to restore the constitutional government.

ECOWAS has earlier said it would send 3,000 or more troops to Mali to secure peace. But it is not clear if the ruling junta will permit the deployment.