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AU Suspends Niger, Threatens Madagascar Sanctions in March

TV frame grab shows Colonel Gokoye Abdul Karimou, spokesman for the Niger millitary junta delivering a televised statement in Niamey, 19 Feb 2010

The African Union has suspended Niger's membership, and warned Madagascar's de facto leaders they face further sanctions next month unless they honor previous power sharing agreements.

The AU Peace and Security Council suspended Niger from the continental organization a day after the coup that ousted President Mamadou Tandja. Uganda's AU ambassador Mull Sebujja Katende announced the suspension, in his capacity as Council president. "Niger is suspended from all activities of the African Union. Meanwhile, we will continue with the process of helping them to return to constitutional order," he said.

Katende said the sanctions would remain until Niger's voters have a chance to elect a new president. "The ultimate for a situation like what is in Niger is that ultimately, every Nigerian will go to a booth, cast a vote, elect a leader he wants, eventually," he said.

The Peace and Security Council also set a one-month deadline for Madagascar's de facto leaders to comply with power sharing agreements signed last year. The island nation's membership was suspended last March after the coup that brought de facto President Andry Rajoelina to power.

Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said the Rajoelina government faces further sanctions unless it cooperates with mediation efforts led by former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano. The mediator has been attempting for months to persuade Mr. Rajoelina honors power sharing deals signed in Maputo last August and again in Addis Ababa in November.

Lamamra says the sanctions are set to take effect in four weeks. "The sanctions would be effective as of the 17th of March, unless before the 16th full compliance is displayed with the mediator in the implementation of the Maputo and Addis Ababa agreements," he said.

African Union sanctions are generally considered to be mostly symbolic. But the Council president, Ambassador Katende suggested the continental body would use every tool at its disposal to force the Rajoelina faction to negotiate. "We will impose targeted sanctions according to the instruments we have. We have travel ban, we have economic sanctions, and all those that apply against de facto authorities, and elements supporting the continuation of unconstitutional change in Madagascar," he said.

Katende said the Council's actions should make clear the AU position that there is no good coup, and that in the case of Niger, two wrongs do not make a right. President Tandja last year changed Niger's constitution to extend his term in office by three years.

But Katende said the AU opposes all coups, even against leaders who hold power illegally.