ECOWAS Losing Patience with Rebels in Northern Mali

Posted June 11th, 2012 at 2:55 am (UTC-5)
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An official with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says the regional bloc is running out of patience for rebels in northern Mali to relinquish control of key areas.

Abdel Fatau Musah, ECOWAS director for external communications, told VOA it will employ “all other measures, including the use of force” if rebels fail to quickly agree to cede control of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidall.

“The ECOWAS position is very clear. We are telling them that ECOWAS will never negotiate with terrorist organizations. That is number 1. Number 2, we are not going to negotiate the territorial integrity of Mali. All other issues are on the table, but territorial integrity is off the table.”

Since a March military coup that ousted the government of President Amadou Toumani Toure, Tuareg rebels, with the help of Islamist militants, seized control of a large area of northern Mali and proclaimed in independent state.

Leaders from the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad held talks Saturday with Burkina Faso President and ECOWAS mediator Blaise Compaore.

Musah said ECOWAS is preparing to ask the U.N. Security Council for a mandate under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which outlines the use of sanctions and military force to restore peace and security.

He said the situation in Mali is complicated by the dual problems of a “constitutional crisis in Bamako and a rebellion in the north.”

“We want everybody to come on board and everybody to understand that what is happening in the north of Mali is just not a threat to Mali, it's not only a threat to West Africa, it's not only a threat to Africa, it's a threat to international peace and security.”

Tuareg rebels tried to sign a deal last month with an Islamist group in Mali, al-Qaida-linked Ansar Dine, that called for the two sides to join forces for an independent state of Azawad. But the talks fell through. The rebels would not agree on the state operating under strict Islamic law, or Sharia.

Mali's transitional government has rejected the rebels' declaration of independence in the north.