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ABIDJAN, Apr 28 2012 (IPS) - Rebel leaders in Guinea-Bissau have released the country’s prime minister and interim president, who were arrested in the country’s Apr. 12 coup, and have flown them to Côte d’Ivoire.
The release of Carlos Gomes Junior and Raimundo Pereira is an encouraging response by the junta to demands by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS ) for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule.
ECOWAS has given Guinea-Bissau’s military junta 72 hours until Apr. 29 to restore constitutional order, and decided to send a contingent of at least 500 soldiers to the country, which has been in crisis since the coup d’état.
“We can’t tolerate this usurpation of power by the junta in Guinea-Bissau any longer,” Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara, the current head of ECOWAS, declared during an extraordinary summit held in Abidjan on Apr. 26, adding that the coup leaders must must step down and allow a transition process to be put in place quickly.
At the conclusion of the summit, ECOWAS warned that if the junta in Bissau did not accede to its demands, the regional body would immediately impose sanctions on members of the military command and their associates.
ECOWAS further threatened to take diplomatic, economic and financial sanctions against Guinea-Bissau without excluding the possibility of referring cases for prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
“The force to be deployed in Mali will assist the transitional bodies and the interim government to respond to any eventuality should the use of force be needed to restore the territorial integrity of Mali,” the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Désiré Kadré Ouédraogo, said at a press conference.
Ouédraogo said negotiations are ongoing with the Tuareg rebels who control the northern part of Mali, and the contingent initially being dispatched to Mali will be charged with maintaining peace and security for a one-year transitional period which is expected to end with elections.
But should talks with the northern rebels fail, he added, the mission could be reinforced with combat units.
Mali’s interim leader, Dioncounda Traoré, took part in the summit, with the Mauritanian president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, also present – Mauritania is not a member of ECOWAS, but was specially invited as it shares a border with Mali.
The leaders of the coup in Guinea-Bissau have reportedly agreed to the deployment of a contingent of 500 to 600 soldiers to the country under ECOWAS’s authority. This force will have the task of facilitating the withdrawal of the Technical and Military Assistance Mission from Angola to Guinea-Bissau, assisting with the reform of the country’s army, and helping to maintain security during a transition programme that is to be put in place.
Troops for this force will be provided by Nigeria, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, under the command of Colonel-Major Barro Gnibanga, from Burkina Faso.
The summit of heads of state also established a regional contact group with the mandate of coordinating implementation and monitoring of ECOWAS decisions on Guinea-Bissau. This group will include Benin, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Senegal and Togo, with Nigeria acting as head.
“ECOWAS is trying to maintain a firm line in managing these two cases. There has been a slight backtracking on the situation in Mali, because regional leaders have recognised that what’s going on in the north is more complicated than they had imagined,” Abidjan-based political scientist Barthélémy Kodja, told IPS.
“While in Guinea-Bissau the framework is well-defined and easy to manage with the deployment of a military force, Mali’s situation calls for major human, material, and financial resources,” he said.
“At the beginning, the feeling was that ECOWAS would get involved militarily in Mali to fight the Tuareg rebels and other armed groups,” Kodja said. “Regional leaders, especially the current ECOWAS head Alassane Ouattara, showed some willingness to engage in this way, but it was wise to review these plans because getting bogged down (in conflict there) was going to cause serious problems throughout the entire sub-region, and even beyond its borders.”
The coup in Mali took place on Mar. 22, since which time Tuareg rebels and armed Islamist groups have seized control of the northern part of the country. The president overthrown by the coup, Amadou Toumani Touré, agreed to resign and allow the installation of a transitional government directed by the president of the National Assembly, Dioncounda Traoré. Cheick Modibo Diarra was named prime minister of this transitional administration on Apr. 17, and he last week formed a unity government.
Guinea-Bissau’s coup occurred on Apr. 12, as the country was awaiting the second round of presidential elections planned for the end of April. Soldiers fired on the residence of the prime minster, Carlos Gomes Junior, subsequently arresting him and the country’s interim president, Raimundo Pereira.
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