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February 27, 2013

West African Leaders Meet Over Mali, Guinea Bissau

by Peter Clottey

West African regional leaders have begun a two-day summit in the Ivory Coast capital, Yamoussoukro, to discuss the current situations in Mali and Guinea Bissau.

Sonny Ugoh, communications director of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), says the leaders also will review plans to deal with terrorism in West Africa.

“Increasingly we are beginning to see manifestations of actions that qualify as terrorism in West Africa. The decision would be a demonstration of the region’s response and willingness to articulate a coherent approach for addressing the challenges of terrorism in West Africa,” said Ugoh.

Regional defense and foreign ministers met Tuesday to come up with recommendations on the security and political situations in Mali and Guinea Bissau. The heads of state are expected to review the recommendations and develop a plan that would then be implemented in the two countries.

France has indicated it will withdraw its forces from Mali in March following a military intervention to recapture parts of northern Mali that had been controlled by the rebels.

“In response to that, regional leaders will take a decision that will facilitate the deployment of additional troops,” said Ugoh. “Almost 70 percent of pledged troops have been deployed. So we want to see how we can deploy the additional 30 percent and to see if we can have some additional pledges in order to increase the profile of the African led force in Mali.” 

Some analysts say the imminent withdrawal of French troops could worsen the security situation in parts of Mali’s north where the rebels had been in control.

Ugoh says ECOWAS wants to ensure Mali maintains its territorial integrity despite the security challenges. He says the concept of operations for the African-led International Mission in Mali (AFISMA) has been revised in light of recent developments.

“The first structure for the troops has been revised to 8,000 and the complementary staff requirement from the Malian armed forces has also been moved up from 5,000 to 10,000, all in an effort to be able to respond to the evolving situation there,” said Ugoh.                                      

Ugoh he says ECOWAS is cooperating with its international partners to bolster regional security as a part of a plan to fight terrorism in the region.

“We are working with our partners with greater cohesion in terms of collaboration. The whole idea is to give us to the tools to be able to work together to be able to implement international instruments in this area of terrorism,” said Ugoh.

Clottey interview with Sonny Ugoh, ECOWAS communications director