Mali crisis takes centre stage at ECOWAS talks

Mali troops on parade in 2010. Mali insists any regional troops sent to the country must not be combat forces

ABIDJAN — West African defence and foreign ministers met for talks Monday on the possible deployment of regional troops to Mali and on how to assist coup-prone Guinea Bissau in its political transition.


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is trying to broker an end to the political crises in Mali -- which has been effectively sliced in two after a putsch -- and in impoverished Guinea-Bissau, which suffered a coup in April.


The meeting will consider reports presented by the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Desire Kadre Ouedraogo, on the political and security situations in the two countries, a statement said Sunday.

The defence chiefs have held several meetings as part of ECOWAS efforts towards the resolution of the crises in Mali and Guinea Bissau. The latest meeting comes in the wake of a formal request earlier this month by Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore for ECOWAS military assistance to recover the occupied territory in the north of the country and combat Islamist extremists there.


Traore's request for ECOWAS assistance made it clear that "the deployment of active military forces" would not be needed in the capital Bamako.


Mali insists that the West African troops must not be combat forces but rather provide logistics and air support and will be involved in law and order operations after the north of the country has been retaken by Bamako.


"Nobody is trying to take the place of the Malians who are those primarily concerned," Ally Coulibaly, Ivory Coast's minister for African integration, said Saturday.


ECOWAS has had 3,300 regional troops on standby for months but was awaiting a formal request from the Malian authorities to seek UN Security Council approval for a military deployment.


The country was considered one of the region's stable democracies until a March coup plunged it into turmoil.


Taking advantage of the chaos, Islamic extremists allied to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb seized key towns in the huge arid north, an area larger than France or Texas.



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