Africa, Armed Conflicts, Headlines, Human Rights

GUINEA-BISSAU-MALI: ECOWAS Talking Softer, But Still Holding Big Stick

DAKAR, May 5 2012 (IPS) - Regional leaders meeting in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on May 3 appeared to slightly retreat from their positions against coup leaders in Guinea-Bissau and Mali, but the Economic Community of West African States continues to press for a speedy return to constitutional rule in both countries.

The Ivorian president, Alassane Ouattara, who is also the current head of ECOWAS, said “The seriousness of events in Mali and the rejection of our resolutions by the junta have slowed the momentum of implementation of our decisions.”

His remarks came as the country’s military junta rejected the regional organisation’s plan to deploy troops to the West African country – this despite the continued control of the north by Tuareg rebels and Islamist forces, and an Apr. 30 outbreak of fighting between rival groups of soldiers in the capital, Bamako, that lasted for three days.

Heads of state at the Dakar summit also had to respond to the rejection by the Guinea-Bissau military of key details of a proposed interim administration for that country.

A revised plan from ECOWAS calls for Guinea-Bissau’s parliament to extend its term, with a newly-elected speaker of the house assuming the role of interim president for a one-year transitional period.

Tuareg rebels launched a rebellion in northern Mali in January which the government struggled to contain. Soldiers – citing poor handling of the conflict in the north among their grievances – overthrew Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré on Mar. 22, but in the uncertain period immediately following the coup, the Tuareg rebels, alongside various Islamist groups, took control of the north.

The former president of the National Assembly, Dioncounda Traoré, has been made interim president of a transitional administration charged with guiding Mali through a transition back to full constitutional order.

Guinea-Bissau also suffered a military coup on Apr. 12, the putsch taking place between two rounds of presidential elections. The junta in Bissau, working with some political parties, set up a National Transitional Council which has been rejected by ECOWAS and the international community.

The fresh resolution by ECOWAS heads of state also called for a consensus prime minister to be named to lead a broad-based government during the transition.

“Neither the interim president nor the transitional prime minister may stand as candidates in the eventual presidential election,” stressed Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, the president of the ECOWAS Commission. “Appropriate mechanisms will be found to extend the mandate of the current parliament to cover the transition period.”

Analysts say the new resolution appears to show a softening of ECOWAS’s position on Guinea-Bissau. The regional organisation initially wanted Raimundo Pereira – a member of the dominant African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) and interim president at the time of the coup – to head a transitional government, but this was rejected by the coup’s leaders in Bissau.

Ouédraogo added that the ECOWAS Standby Force will be deployed to Guinea-Bissau to supervise the withdrawal of the Angolan Technical Assistance Mission, ensure security during the transitional period, and support reforms of the defence and security forces.

The PAIGC, whose candidate was poised to win a second round of presidential elections before the Apr. 12 coup intervened, has since condemned the new plan. “Our party … will not take part in any transition government and we reiterate our position taken since the coup, which is that Raimundo Pereira and Carlos Gomes (prime minister at the time of the coup) be returned to their respective posts,” said PAIGC secretary general Rui Dia Sousa.

The summit instructed the ECOWAS Commission to seek assistance from the African Union, the United Nations and the wider international community to implement these initiatives in Guinea-Bissau, he concluded.

Turning to the Malian crisis, the Dakar summit called on transitional authorities there to accelerate the elaboration of a roadmap for a return to constitutional rule, including a clear timeline for legislative, organisational and operational activity leading up to the holding of presidential elections in Mali.

“The Summit repeats that any person who obstructs the proper functioning of institutions of the Republic will be subject to targeted sanctions,” stressed Ouédraogo.

West African heads of state also made a fresh call to Mali’s armed forces to devote themselves to the protection of the country’s people and its territorial integrity, and to refrain from any acts likely to disturb the transition process. ECOWAS added that it would only send troops to Mali at the request of the interim authorities.

Here too, analysts note that ECOWAS has reconsidered decisions taken at an earlier special summit (in Abidjan on Apr. 26) when it committed to sending an armed force to Mali. The junta in Bamako rejected this out of hand, arguing that it would violate the country’s sovereignty.

At a May 2 press conference, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Saïd Djinnit, warned of the serious threat posed by the instability in Mali.

“The situation, particularly in the north, constitutes first of all a serious threat to Mali, but also to the whole of West Africa and globally,” he said.

“(The United Nations) will support all sub-regional initiatives to fight against terrorists present in northern Mali,” said Djinnit.

At the opening of the summit in Dakar a day later, Senegalese President Macky Sall called for all parties to persevere along a path of dialogue, adding that, “(ECOWAS seeks) to eradicate the seeds of destabilisation which, in the end, will not spare any country in the region.”

Despite the intense focus on Mali and Guinea-Bissau over the past month, Ouattara urged leaders to remain focused on development in the region.

“The management of political crises like the ones we have had to deal with at these summits must leave space for the other objectives of our regional organisation, including the construction of roads, schools, and hospitals, and improving living conditions for people and especially youth employment.”

Political scientist Massaer Diallo, the president of the Institute for Political and Strategic Studies in Dakar, said, “The final resolution from ECOWAS shows there is still a reluctance to respect democracy. Constitutional rule must be re-established in Guinea-Bissau, and it is also fundamental in the case of Mali.”

“Despite all the negotiations that can take place at the international level, the question of Mali’s territorial integrity is non-negotiable, and it calls for the entire international community to restore it.”

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jed devaro