ADDIS ABABA — The African Union Peace and Security Council has lifted Mali’s suspension from the pan-African organization. The AU also discussed deploying an African-led international military force in Mali.
Extreme Islamic groups, led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or NMLA, occupied the northern part of Mali in January. The crisis in Mali intensified when a group of soldiers staged a coup in March -- one month before the country's presidential elections. Mali was then suspended from the African Union.
The AU commissioner of the Peace and Security Council, Ramtane Lamamra, announced that progress had been made in recent months by Mali, including the establishment of a national unity government in August.
“In this context, the council decides to lift the suspension of Mali’s participation in the activities of the AU, which is therefore invited to resume its full participation to all meetings and activities of the African Union,” Lamamra said.
The high level meeting at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa included discussion of how an African-led international military force would be deployed in Mali.
The military force will be a combined effort by the AU, the United Nations, Mali, and the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, and the European Union. ECOWAS says it will contribute some 3,200 troops to the effort.
AU Commissioner Lamamra said Mali will need to take several steps before the bloc submits the request for military action to the United Nations Security Council next month.
“First, enhance coherence amongst the transitional institutions in order to facilitate the implementation of the two main transitional tasks, namely restoration of the state authority of the northern part of the country, and the organization of free, fair and transparent elections in the first quarter of next year,” Ramamre said.
Mali was asked to submit a detailed plan on these issues. The AU Peace and Security Council also requested a framework for negotiations with armed groups in the north that are willing to engage in dialogue.
African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma emphasized the AU's commitment to assist Mali in resolving the crisis.
“We will also work hand in hand with those concerned to address the long-term challenges facing the Sahel region. In this respect, the AU is taking steps to open an office in Bamako and to strengthen presence elsewhere in the region. I will also be appointing a high representative to Mali," Dlamini-Zuma said.
A four-day conference in Bamako to finalize a concept for the deployment of military troops in Mali is expected to begin October 30.
The AU Peace and Security Council also discussed the outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan. The neighboring countries signed nine agreements in September, related to economic and oil issues. But no agreement was reached on matters such as the Abyei region and disputed border areas.
The two countries have been given six weeks to reach consensus on the Abyei region under facilitation of the AU High-Level Implementation panel. Within two weeks, the two countries will need to reach an agreement on how they will proceed with negotiations on the five disputed border areas.