DAKAR — West African regional bloc ECOWAS says it is gearing for an eventual military intervention mission to Mali. But ECOWAS and Mali appear to have divergent views on what that mission will entail.
The Economic Community of West African States says it can no longer hesitate when it comes to northern Mali, which has been under the control of al-Qaida-linked militants since early April, after a military coup toppled the central government in Bamako.
Foreign and defense ministers from member states met Monday in Abidjan to approve a plan for the ECOWAS mission to Mali.
ECOWAS Ministerial Council President Daniel Kablan Duncan, said they were able to harmonize their positions and define a "road map" for the type of collaboration to be established between the regional forces and the Malian army, and the means of support to be offered to the Malian army.
Duncan said the council will report its conclusions to the ECOWAS heads of state who will discuss and then formally respond to Mali's request. It has been two weeks since Mali sent a request to ECOWAS asking for limited military assistance.
ECOWAS has proposed sending regional troops to Bamako to secure what has been a weak transitional government and to help re-organize and train the Malian army. In a third phase a joint Mali-ECOWAS offensive would be launched to retake the north.
But in its request Mali ruled out foreign-troop deployment to Bamako, requesting only equipment and other logistical support. It was clear from the request the Malian army would be leading the charge to the north. Mali requested five ECOWAS battalions to hold recaptured towns and air support.
Ivory Coast's U.N. envoy, Youssoufou Bamba, told the U.N. Security Council Mali's request "fell short of the anticipation of the ECOWAS Authority."
"The request for military deployment only for Phase III can hardly be fulfilled, because it will be extremely difficult and strategically unwise to deploy troops in the north of the country, without a coordinating center in Bamako," Bamba said.
Bamba said ECOWAS would be requesting fighter jets and other heavy combat assets for Phase 3 of the mission. He told the Security Council ECOWAS continues to encounter "fierce resistance" in Mali from some members of the ex-junta and a "vocal minority" within Malian society.
"The question of leadership in Mall remains unclear and this is sending confused signals," Bamba said.
ECOWAS says it will seek a U.N. Security Council intervention mandate. The Security Council turned down a previous request in June, saying it was too vague. On Monday, the Security Council urged Mali and other actors to first "exhaust all means of negotiation" to resolve the crisis.