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ECOWAS Meets on West Africa Issues

  • Jane Labous

Malian special forces drill to face off an ambush as an unidentified U.S. Special Forces soldier gives instructions from a Malian truck in Kita, Mali, during a joint training exercise, May 10, 2010 (file photo).

Malian special forces drill to face off an ambush as an unidentified U.S. Special Forces soldier gives instructions from a Malian truck in Kita, Mali, during a joint training exercise, May 10, 2010 (file photo).

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meets Wednesday and Thursday to discuss regional security and politics in its 15 member states.

The 29th session of the ministerial level of ECOWAS takes place this week in Abuja.

Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, will chair the meeting to review the political and security situation in West Africa.

Issues being addressed include the impending food security crisis in the Sahel, the Tuareg rebellion in Mali and techniques to combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

"They are going to be briefed on the situation in the Sahel, against the background of the Tuareg rebellion in Mali which, as you know, beyond the implications for regional peace and security also has dimensions in humanitarian issues," said Sunny Ugoh, ECOWAS director of communications. "It has led to the displacement of thousands of people, not just in Mali but in neighboring Niger, so we want to see how briefing them to get instructions how the region can respond to the situation."

Foreign ministers from all ECOWAS countries will also look at the implementation of the roadmap on Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Guinea-Bissau. ECOWAS leaders have already authorized the release of $63 million as the region's contribution to the process.

Members will also be briefed on the recent electoral process in Gambia - as well as upcoming elections to be held in 2012 in Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

Investigators will present to ministers a report from a fact-finding mission to the Sahel that took place from February 9-11.

Ugoh says ECOWAS is enthusiastic about working with the U.N. to combat current problems in the region and make use of each other's strengths.

"Three issues of piracy and terrorism are challenges we have to deal with - challenges that all the regions of the world have had to deal with even earlier than we have. We have to respond to them. We will discuss the mechanisms to put in place to address the issue of piracy which has become a bigger phenomenon in West Africa," added Ugoh.

Pirates attacked three ships off the coast of Nigeria in recent days, hijacking one, and killing two crewmembers on board.

West African heads of state will attend the ECOWAS's 40th meeting Thursday, presided over by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

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