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Regional Defense Chiefs to Meet Over Mali Crisis

A public transport minibus is stopped by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint at the entrance to Markala, approximately 40 km outside Segou on the road to Diabaly, in central Mali, Jan. 14, 2013.
West African defense chiefs plan to meet in Mali’s capital, Bamako, Tuesday as part of a regional effort to re-take parts of northern Mali now controlled by Islamist militants.

“It is intended to enable the region [to] take a decision on the basis of the evolving situation in Mali,” said ECOWAS communications director Sonny Ugoh.

He said the defense chiefs want to determine what needs to be done “to ensure that the regional troops that are going to Mali to support the Malian armed forces to defend the territorial integrity of the country, are in good shape."

Ugoh says the meeting was scheduled in Bamako so the defense chiefs can get a better feel for the ongoing conflict in northern Mali.

“This is just to give a sense of solidarity with their colleagues from Mali and to be on the ground to have a sense of feel of what is going on in Mali vis-à-vis the situation in the north,” said Ugoh.

He says the defense chiefs meeting comes before a heads of state summit scheduled for Saturday.

Ugoh’s comments came after the Islamist militants advanced southward, seizing the town of Diabaly, about 400 kilometers north of Bamako.

ECOWAS plans to send about 3,000 troops to Mali. Ugoh says the soldiers will soon be able to help Mali’s national army defeat the Islamist militants.

“A force commander from Nigeria has already been appointed for the African-led force for Mali. And the sense we get is that from Tuesday, the troops from those countries that are making a contribution, their troops will begin to arrive. So between Tuesday and Wednesday, we will begin to see boots on the ground,” said Ugoh.

He says proposals from the defense chiefs will be presented to the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council.

Meanwhile, officials from the Mediation and Security Council plan to meet Friday at Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. That meeting, Ugoh says, will discuss critical issues on maintaining regional peacekeeping and stability as well as the conflict in Mali. It also comes on the eve of the heads of state meeting, Saturday in Abidjan.

Ugoh says proposals from the Mediation and Security Council will be presented to the heads of state to make a final decision on the way forward in Mali.

Critics have accused ECOWAS of failing to act ahead of time in Mali, which they contend allowed the militants to take more territory in northern Mali and threaten Bamako. Ugoh disagreed.

“Regional leaders have asked member countries to deploy immediately in order to support Mali to defend its territorial integrity, defend the capital from this onslaught and secure the country. I think they have acted as responsibly as the situation requires,” he said.

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