W. African leaders meet on Mali crisis
YAMOUSSOUKRO (AFP) – West African leaders met in the Ivory Coast capital Friday in a bid to end the crisis in Mali, where rebel groups have seized the north as the government struggles in the wake of a coup.
The summit of the Economic Community of West African States should lead to “additional measures to prevent matters in Mali becoming bogged down,” said Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the current head of ECOWAS.
The leaders met as Islamist groups were tightening their grip on the north, while ECOWAS plans to send in troops have stalled and the transitional government in Bamako, where a short-lived junta remains influential, seems powerless to act.
Those present included Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, the ECOWAS mediator in the Malian crisis, Mahamadou Issoufou, his counterpart in Mali’s neighbour Niger, and Cheikh Modibo Diarra, head of the transitional government.
On the agenda were negotiations under way with the rebel groups who took control of the north in March and the possible despatch of an ECOWAS force to the region.
The meeting comes in the wake of defeats for the secular separatist Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azad (MNLA) at the hands of the Islamist Ansar Dine in Timbuktu and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in the city of Gao.
MUJAO is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which also has fighters in northern Mali, alarming regional and Western powers.
An African diplomat said that Friday’s summit was expected to back negotiation while confirming that a military option is no longer merely wishful thinking.
ECOWAS is redrafting plans to send some 3,300 troops to Mali, mainly from Nigeria, Senegal and Niger, but it needs international support, particularly logistic.
An initial project was considered too vague by the United Nations Security Council.
While Niger is in favour of military action, mediators in Burkina Faso are trying to persuade Ansar Dine to cut ties with AQMI.
Algeria, the strongest country in the region militarily, has also called for a negotiated solution for Mali, where MUJAO kidnapped seven of its diplomats in Gao in April.
But Algiers is being increasingly pressured to take a stronger role, and will host Malian Foreign Minister Sadio Lamine Sow from Sunday, a diplomatic source said.
Algerian officials have already had talks with Malian Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra, Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Jibril Bassole and Tuareg representatives in recent days, as well as an envoy from Ouattara.