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West African bloc assesses sanctions for coup-hit states

#West #African #bloc #assesses #sanctions #couphit #states

West African leaders meet in Ghana’s capital Accra on Sunday to review sanctions they have imposed on three military-ruled countries in their volatile region.

Heads of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meet to assess efforts to set timetables and other guarantees for restoring civilian rule in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.

Mali saw coups in August 2020 and May 2021, followed by Guinea in September 2021 and Burkina Faso in January this year.

Fearing contagion in a region notorious for military takeovers, ECOWAS has imposed tough trade and economic sanctions on Mali but lighter penalties on Guinea and Burkina.

The summit will be dominated by a review of a months-long attempt to press the juntas to set an early timetable for returns to barracks.

ECOWAS imposed a trade and financial embargo on Mali in January after its military government unveiled a plan to rule for five years.

The measures have hit the poor, landlocked country hard, whose economy has already been badly strained by a decades-long jihadist insurgency.

After months of bitter talks, the Malian authorities on Wednesday approved a plan to hold presidential elections in February 2024.

The vote is preceded by a referendum on a revised constitution in March 2023 and general elections in late 2023.

ECOWAS facilitator in Mali, former Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan, visited the country last week. A member of his entourage told AFP Mali had made “tremendous progress”.

Mali’s top diplomat, Abdoulaye Diop, said on Friday that recent political developments would prompt the country to lift sanctions.

However, a new election law passed on June 17 could be a stumbling block in the talks, as it allows a military member to contest the presidential election.

– Transition to Guinea “unthinkable” –

Burkina Faso – another Sahel country embroiled in jihadist unrest – and Guinea have so far only been suspended by the bodies of the 15-nation bloc but could face tougher sanctions.

Burkina’s junta has proposed a constitutional referendum in December 2024 and parliamentary and presidential elections in February 2025.

ECOWAS mediator Mahamadou Issoufou visited Ouagadougou for the second time in a month on Saturday and commended junta leader Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba and his government for their “openness to dialogue”.

The timetable to allow for a return to civilian rule and the situation of deposed leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore were also discussed, Niger’s former president said.

Political parties allied with Kabore condemned the junta’s plans on Friday, saying they had not been consulted in advance.

More complicated is the situation in Guinea, whose junta has rejected an ECOWAS mediator and announced a 36-month transition – a period that African Union leader and Senegalese President Macky Sall has called “unthinkable”.

ECOWAS avoided deciding on sanctions at a June 4 meeting, instead giving itself another month to negotiate.

Guinea launched a diplomatic offensive this week to allay concerns from regional leaders.

The country’s post-coup Prime Minister Mohamed Beavogui met with United Nations Special Envoy for West Africa and the Sahel Mahamat Saleh Annadif on Saturday.

The government said it wanted to reassure its ECOWAS “brothers” of its commitment to a peaceful and inclusive democratic transition.

Guinea’s military regime met with the main political parties on Monday, but they have made their participation in the dialogue conditional on the appointment of an ECOWAS mediator.

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