YAMOUSSOUKRO — West African leaders met in the Cote d’Ivoire capital yesterday in a bid to end the crisis in Mali, as Islamist rebel groups which have seized the north of the country strengthened their hold.
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.
Those present included Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, the Ecowas mediator in the Malian crisis, and Mahamadou Issoufou, president of Mali’s neighbour
Niger, as well as Cheikh Modibo Diarra, head of Bamako’s transitional government.
On the agenda were negotiations under way with the rebel groups who took control of northern Mali in March in the wake of a military coup in Bamako and the possible despatch of an Ecowas force to the region.
The meeting comes after defeats for the secular separatist Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) at the hands of the Islamist Ansar Dine in Timbuktu and of 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.
The events “confirm the hold that terrorist groups have on Mali’s north, which worsens the humanitarian position of local people,” said Said Djinnit, United Nations representative for West Africa.
He called for humanitarian aid to be at the centre of talks between ECOWAS and the rebel groups and stressed the central role of the transitional government in Bamako, which he said should be more representative.
An African diplomat said the 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. — AFP.