DAKAR - Defense chiefs of the Economic Community of West African States met Monday in Abuja to "fine-tune" plans for a troop deployment to Guinea-Bissau and a possible military intervention in Mali following coups in both countries within the past two months. ECOWAS is threatening to reinstate sanctions on the junta leaders in Mali if they continue to block efforts to restore civilian rule.
In a written statement Monday, the ECOWAS Commission condemned what it called "continued interference with the transition" in Mali by junta chief Captain Amadou Sanogo and his allies.
ECOWAS commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Salamatu Hussaini Suleiman, said the junta's interference would not be tolerated. "We are highly, highly disappointed that the same coup plotters are still trying to subvert the transitional program that would put Mali back into constitutional order. ECOWAS is taking all steps to ensure that that is reversed," she said.
She spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a summit of ECOWAS defense chiefs of staff in Abuja Monday.
The ECOWAS commission has told the defense chiefs to ready a 3,000-person standby force for Mali.
Commissioner Suleiman said that although ECOWAS has agreed to deploy troops to Mali only at the request of the transitional government, ECOWAS protocols allow it to intervene in a conflict that "threatens the security of the sub-region."
On Saturday, two ECOWAS envoys quit talks with the junta after failing to reach agreement on who will lead a transitional government.
The 40-day mandate of interim president Dioncounda Traore runs out next week, and Sanogo reportedly wants to be installed as Mali's transitional leader.
Sanogo, speaking at a military barracks outside the capital, Monday, said he plans to call a national convention to choose a leader for the country until elections are held.
Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants took control of northern Mali in the chaos following the March 21st coup. West African leaders have expressed concern that the crisis is a danger to regional security.
Nigeria's defense minister, Bello Haliru Mohammed, told the ECOWAS defense chiefs Monday that Nigeria has troops and supplies ready for airlift to Mali when needed. "The pledges made by Nigeria for the Guinea-Bissau and Mali missions, we are committed to them and our troops are already ready," he said.
Nigeria is a key contributor to regional forces. The defense minister said its soldiers are ready for deployment to Guinea-Bissau Friday.
ECOWAS says the force will be charged with maintaining order, ensuring the smooth exit of a contingent of Angolan troops, and overseeing the reform of Guinea-Bissau's notoriously unruly security sector.
The formation of a transitional government is underway in Guinea-Bissau following the April 12th coup. West African mediators and coup leaders agreed on an interim president late last week.