West African Leaders Discuss Crisis in Mali

Posted June 29th, 2012 at 2:00 am (UTC-5)
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West African leaders are meeting Friday to discuss the latest developments in Mali, where recent clashes between Islamist rebels and Tuareg separatists have killed at least 20 people.

The extraordinary two-day summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will also focus on ongoing security concerns in Guinea Bissau, another coup-struck country in the region.

This week's violence in northern Mali is likely to put even more pressure on the regional bloc to deploy a military force that it has been discussing for months.

Islamist militants are streaming into the northern Mali town of Gao after they ousted a Tuareg rebel group this week. The Islamic extremist group MUJAO (Unity Movement for Jihad in West Africa) took complete control of Gao from the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) on Wednesday.

Some Malians are calling for intervention in the north, complaining the security situation has not been resolved by the Malian army, which is struggling to reorganize after a March coup that allowed the rebels to take over the region.

In an interview with VOA, ECOWAS communications director Sonny Ugoh dismissed accusations that West African leaders have not done enough to address the violence.

“I think the heads of state have acted with the best interest of the region and our member state, Mali … You can be sure that heads of state, as is characteristic of them, will review the situation and make a decision that would be in the best interest of Mali and West Africa.”

Ugoh says ECOWAS leaders are preparing troops for a military force to be sent to northern Mali. But the regional intervention force has been delayed while regional leaders try to get formal backing from the United Nations.

He also says ECOWAS mediators have been holding talks with the MNLA and the Islamist militant group Ansar Dine in order to find a negotiated solution.

The MNLA fought alongside Ansar Dine rebels earlier this year to seize northern Mali from government troops in a fast moving offensive that took advantage of the vacuum created by the military coup.

The Tuareg group is seeking to form a secular state in northern Mali, while the Islamists want to impose a strict form of Islamic law. The two groups broke off a brief alliance following a dispute over Sharia.

ECOWAS has also expressed concern about the refusal of coup leaders in Guinea Bissau to swiftly return constitutional order, as demanded by the West African grouping.