Lagos, Nigeria - The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has set up an experts' committee as part of efforts to ensure an agreeable solution to the lingering issue of Malian arms being held by Guinea, usually-reliable ECOWAS sources told PANA here Friday. The tripartite committee comprises experts from ECOWAS, Guinea and Mali, and it is charged with taking an inventory of the arms and ensuring proper warehousing until regional leaders hold further consultations on the next line of action.
'The (regional) leaders are concerned that the arms may fall into wrong hands (in Mali) and further be used to destabilise the country, which is still reeling from the effects of the 22
March military coup and the take-over of the north by Islamists and Tuareg rebels,' the sources told PANA. 'But the general feeling is that Guinea has been a good West African citizen by holding
on to the arms.'
It is believed that the weapons were ordered from Bulgaria by the government of ousted President Ahmadou Toumani Toure to help the military in its campaign to stop the Tuarag rebels and their Islamist allies who were then battling to take the north.
When the weapons arrived in the port of Guinea in July, the country consulted with regional leaders and it was then agreed to allow in the ship that brought the weapons, but also to hold on to them since there had then been a change of government in Mali.
Since then, Mali has been demanding the release of the weapons, especially as it prepares to take on the Islamists holding the north.
PANA learnt that while ECOWAS is concerned that the arms should not fall into wrong hands, it is also aware of the security challenges facing the interim administration, and the fact that the country's military will need the weapons as they prepare for the eventual military showdown to retake the north.
ECOWAS is preparing to deploy a 3,000-strong standby force to Mali to assist the country in regaining full sovereignty over its territory.
The preparation received a boost this week when the interim administration in Mali formally requested the assistance of the 15-member regional bloc in pushing out the Islamic militants occupying the north.
Analysts said the request will strengthen the hands of the regional body when it returns to the UN Security Council, hopefully soon, to seek its endorsement of the planned ECOWAS Mission in Mali.