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ECOWAS Continues to Block Arms Shipment to Mali

  • Anne Look

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is blocking an arms shipment to Mali at the port of Conakry amid concern that the weapons could wind up in the wrong hands.

Malian and ECOWAS officials are in Conakry meeting with Guinean authorities to figure out what to do about an arms shipment that arrived from Bulgaria in late July.

Former Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure reportedly ordered the weapons before he was ousted in a March 22 military coup.

Guinean officials say they contacted West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which said to hold the shipment.

Guinea's defense minister, Abdoul Kabèlè Camara, says these weapons could have been ordered a long time ago, however they arrived at a time when the situation in Mali was rather fluid and uncertain. He says they had to be prudent and refer the situation to ECOWAS.

According to an ECOWAS convention, ratified in 2009, member states are required to seek authorization for the import or international transfer of small arms and light weapons.

However, protocol aside, many suggest that ECOWAS is blocking the shipment out of concern for ongoing instability in Mali.

Since April, al-Qaida-linked extremist groups have consolidated their hold on northern Mali, and the transitional civilian government in Bamako has struggled to find solid footing amid concerns that coup leaders continue to meddle in the country's affairs.

Kwesi Aning, director of research at the Ghana-based Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center, says Guinea is doing the right thing.

"The government in Bamako is terribly weak. I think it's dangerous for those arms to get into Bamako precisely because we don't who is going to take control over those arms and how they might impact the crisis," said Aning. "Guinea's position is responsible. I think it observes the ECOWAS regulations on small arms, and I think the Malians will have to get their acts together in Bamako before they expect for those arms to be released."

An ECOWAS deal officially sidelined Mali's short-lived military junta. However, the soldiers hold three key posts in the unity government. Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo has kept a low profile in recent months, but there are concerns that he continues to exercise influence behind the scenes.

A French diplomat reported this week that Mali has requested ECOWAS military assistance to secure the government in Bamako, reorganize the army, and help retake the north.

The Malian government has not spoken publicly about the reported request, which has since been published online by French newspaper Le Monde.

In Bamako, the prospect of ECOWAS troops on the ground has elicited praise from some and condemnation from others, namely the coup leaders.
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