LAGOS (AFP) – The West African bloc ECOWAS has asked regional leaders to approve a troop deployment to end a rebellion by separatist groups in northern Mali, it said Saturday.
ECOWAS had raised the prospect of sending a force of up to 3,000 men to try to reclaim the north, seized by rebels, outlaws and Al-Qaeda-linked fighters who capitalised on the disarray of a March 22 coup in the capital Bamako.
The bloc’s mediation and security council decided at an extraordinary meeting in Abidjan on Thursday “that the regional force will be deployed if dialogue being brokered by the regional mediator, President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, should fail,” the Economic Community of West African States said in a statement here.
“ECOWAS shall take all necessary measures to end the rebellion and maintain the unity and territorial integrity of Mali including the use of force,” the statement said following the meeting attended by foreign and defence ministers.
The ministers also insisted that the rebels withdraw from all occupied territories as a precondition for negotiations.
To address the anticipated humanitarian consequences of the crisis, the ministers approved $3.0 million (2.3 million euros) in aid to the legitimate government of Mali and another $1.5 million to the neighbouring countries of Burkina Faso and Niger.
The European Union, France and the United States have already indicated their willingness to support ECOWAS’ effort to end the rebellion and preserve Mali’s territorial integrity.
The ministers also agreed to dispatch a military contingent to Guinea-Bissau to replace an Angolan mission in the crisis-wracked and impoverished west African country.
The council meeting took place before Thursday’s military coup in Guinea-Bissau.
“The council further agreed on the dispatch of a mixed civilian-military delegation to Guinea-Bissau under the auspices of the regional mediator to meet with the key stakeholders within the political class and the military,” it said.
ECOWAS has strongly condemned the coup and demanded the immediate restoration of constitutional order so that the country’s presidential run-off vote, set for April 29, can go forward.