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West African Foreign Ministers Discussed Regional Security Issues

The Security and Mediation Council which comprises foreign ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ended its meeting Tuesday in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou.

The meeting was held against the backdrop of rising drug trafficking and piracy in the sub-region, attempted coup d’etat in Guinea Bissau, and instability in the Sahel Belt involving Niger and Mali.

ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas told VOA the foreign ministers reviewed the security situation in the sub-region, including Ivory Coast’s once anticipated but now postponed election.

“As you know, the chairman and president of Burkina Faso (Blaise Compaore) is the facilitator of the Ivorian peace process. We are pretty satisfied with the work that is being done. The process has entered the phase where there is a citizen identification process ongoing in Cote d’Ivoire. This is what has delayed the elections, and from the briefings that we received, we feel fairly optimistic that elections are doable in the first half of 2009,” he said.

Following last month’s attempted coup d’etat in Guinea Bissau, ECOWAS reiterated that it would not condone undemocratic means of changing governments in the sub-region.

Chambas said the foreign ministers further discussed the attempted coup d’etat in Guinea Bissau.

“The minister of foreign affairs of Guinea Bissau brought us up to speed on the events in that country. We discussed it and underscored the fact that what needs to happen in Guinea Bissau now is for us to move forward to seat the national assembly which was elected on November 16, and also we need to move forward very strongly with security sector reform in Guinea Bissau so that we can put in place a professionally trained which completely understands and accepts civilian control over the military,” Chambas said.

He said ECOWAS has a zero-tolerance policy on military takeovers in the sub-region and the means to enforce such policy.

“Definitely we have a zero-tolerance policy against coup d’etats just as the African Union, and we do have some tools, certainly suspending a member state is more or less automatic and the literally ostracizing any member state which is governed by leaders who have come to power through a coup d’etat. And of course we will work with the international community to apply the appropriate sanctions,” he said

Chambas said the ECOWAS foreign ministers also discussed the rising drug trafficking and piracy in the sub-region.

“We discussed this at the foreign ministers’ meeting because of a number of challenges. One from a strategic point of view, you might know the Gulf of Guinea which is essentially the West African coast is becoming an important area for oil and gas production. Secondly we have huge fishery reserves and we have not been able to police our fishery reserve sufficiently. Then thirdly you have this phenomenon of piracy which is beginning to wear its ugly head on the West African coast. Then of course the new threat of drug trafficking also coming by sea,” Chambas said.

He said all of these factors combined to show that ECOWAS countries need to begin to cooperate in the area of naval patrol because Chambas said no one country standing alone can be able to provide adequate security on the high seas.

Chambas, who is a Ghanaian-born, said ECOWAS has sent a high-power election monitoring team to observe Sunday’s presidential elections in Ghana.

“We have sent in an ECOWAS pre-election mission led by Dr. Amos Sawyer, former head of state of Liberia along with former head of state of Nigeria, General (Yakubu) Gowon. We fielded a very strong team of nearly 200 observers, and we hope that the observers working together would send the right signal and give the confidence to the process so that the Ghanaian people on election day would have the opportunity to go an freely express their will,” Chambas said.