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African Union Backs EU Ultimatum to Mauritania Military Junta

The African Union is reportedly backing the European Union's (EU) ultimatum to the military junta to restore democracy by the end of the month or face stiff sanctions if the coup leaders refuse to abide by the ultimatum. The African Union says it is in harmony with the European Union, a day after it issued an ultimatum to the military junta, urging them to unveil a plan to restore constitutional order within a month or face what it described as appropriate measures.

The EU deadline was reportedly set after an inconclusive meeting in Paris between representatives of the military junta which seized power in Nouakchott last August and delegates from concerned EU member states. The African Union issued its own ultimatum two weeks ago, calling on the junta to reinstate the country's first democratically elected president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, but the military junta failed to heed to the deadline, dismissing it as not in Mauritanians' interest.

Professor Okey Onyejekwe is the director of governance at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa that the African Union must stands its ground to maintain credibility.

"The African Union has basically taken the lead on this issue given the fact that the Africa Union has been committed since 2000 to a peaceful transfer and constitutional transfer of power. And hence, they have taken the lead is in consonance with the Constitutive Act of the Africa Union and the Lome Convention of 2000, as well as the recent charter on governance and democracy," Onyejekwe pointed out.

He said Africa's continental body should maintain its stance on its ultimatum to the military junta.

"I think the African Union must maintain its credibility. Otherwise the Lome Convention of 2000 and the Constitutive Act is quite meaningless. As you would recall in the Comoros, they tried to implement these resolutions that no African government should be put in place through unconstitutional means. The role of the EU in my judgment is really secondary as long as it is the African Union that is taking the lead. And everyone is watching to see how the African Union would actually live up to its determination not to allow non-constitutional means of overtaking government. And as the case with Africa, it's not just about election. It is about the consolidation of democracy," he said.

Onyejekwe said although the military option should be taken off the table, it should be the last resort in resolving conflicts on the continent.

"The military option should be the last option. But the point here is that if the African Union is very much reconstituted Organization of African Unity, committed to a constitutional approach to governance, then it must live up to its expectations. And people are watching to see. As you would recall, in Mauritania, there was an exception made in the last coup, and here again, this is another test. My point here is essentially that if declarations are made and are not adhered to, then it is not worth the paper it is written on," Onyejekwe pointed out.

He said the military junta should meet some of the preconditions in order to restore democracy.

"There are other preconditions so far, and one is the release of the president and the prime minister, which I think is very basic and minimal. But for me, it is also a question of good faith that if you would release the president and the prime minister, then it shows a good faith commitment to negotiations. But on the other hand, if the decision is to completely ignore what I call minimal demands on the part of the new junta and at the same time recalcitrance and disrespect… then they need to be sanctioned," he noted.

Meanwhile, the junta has promised to hold elections quickly. But no date has been set, and parliament has voted to delay a presidential vote by at least a year.

Failure to respond to the EU ultimatum will likely lead to sanctions drawn up under the Cotonou Accord between the EU and the countries of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, which provides for a ban on all development funds, aside from humanitarian aid.