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West African Leaders Meet on Guinea-Bissau, Mali

May 03, 2012

Nancy Palus | Dakar

West African heads of state are meeting in Senegal's capital, Dakar, to talk about what one official called the "double crisis" of Guinea-Bissau and Mali. What was to have been a meeting of a working group on Guinea-Bissau turned into an extraordinary summit after setbacks in both countries’ return to constitutional order.

At the opening of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS summit, leaders expressed concern about the failure of military juntas in both Guinea-Bissau and Mali to comply with decisions made by ECOWAS to help restore civilian rule.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, the current head of ECOWAS, pointed to a "defiant attitude" on the part of the soldiers who recently took power in the two countries.

He says West African heads of state must discuss urgent next steps after the Mali junta’s refusal to submit to ECOWAS’s decisions, and the Guinea-Bissau junta’s bid to impose its own conditions on how to proceed.

Days after ECOWAS decided that Mali’s transition would be for 12 months, the junta publicly decried the decision. Then early this week, the capital Bamako saw grave clashes between rival factions of the Malian army.

In Guinea-Bissau, the junta has come out against an ECOWAS decision to restore interim president Raimundo Pereira for the transition period, and has not committed to a return to constitutional rule.

Ouattara said the people of Guinea-Bissau and Mali must be assured that the regional body's decisions are based solely on a commitment to the people's welfare and security.

In Mali in recent months, many citizens have bitterly denounced ECOWAS, criticizing what they call harsh actions that do not take into consideration the Malian people.

Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, head of the ECOWAS commission, said in opening the summit that the region will not tolerate military juntas who would impose themselves on a population.

He says given what is at stake in Guinea-Bissau and Mali, ECOWAS must take additional measures to again reinforce the transition to constitutional order in both countries, where recent events undermine efforts toward peace and stability in West Africa.

The leaders went into closed session and were expected to announce their decisions on Guinea-Bissau and Mali Thursday evening.

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