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West African Leaders Discuss Role of Mali Military in Transition

More than one month after Mali's coup, the role of the military government in Mali's transition to constitutional order has yet to be determined, according to West African leaders meeting in Dakar, Senegal on Thursday. In a summit on the post-coup situations in Guinea-Bissau and Mali, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, called for another review of the role of Malian soldiers who continue to wield power in Mali, despite the existence of a civilian transitional government.

The meeting was the second such summit in a week, as West African leaders wrestle with military governments in Guinea-Bissau and Mali that officials say have defied the regional body's decisions, throwing off track efforts to return to constitutional order.

The military government in Mali, which this week withstood attacks by soldiers loyal to the ousted president, has yet to step aside, despite the installation of a civilian transitional government.

At Thursday's meeting, West African leaders reiterated their call on the military to avoid actions that could disrupt the country's transition. Head of the ECOWAS commission, Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, read out the final communiqué.

In this respect, he says, ECOWAS leaders call on the mediator, in collaboration with Mali's interim government, to review the role of Mali's junta in the transition and make recommendations to ECOWAS.

During the reading of the final communiqué, Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, intervened to point out that it should include that the review would be done "in respect of" a framework agreement signed by the junta and ECOWAS April 6.

That agreement was vague on the junta's role, but coup leaders have insisted that under the accord, the junta would continue to influence the transition process.

Traoré told reporters after the meeting that more time was needed to clarify the junta's role in the transition.

He says it's not as if we can take a magic wand and tackle something like this overnight. He says we have to give it the time necessary in order to avoid errors.

It remains to be seen what influence the junta could have concerning a possible deployment of ECOWAS troops in Mali.

At Thursday's meeting, West African leaders said ECOWAS should prepare a military force to be deployed "as soon as Malian authorities officially request it." But the junta for weeks has come out strongly against the proposition of ECOWAS troops on Malian soil.

On Guinea-Bissau, where soldiers ousted the interim leader April 12 just ahead of a run-off presidential election, ECOWAS has recommended that the national assembly resume office and vote for a new speaker, who would then become president of the transition.

Guinea-Bissau's junta had rejected an earlier call by West African leaders to bring back interim president Raimundo Pereira to lead the process.

The West African heads of state also called for the deployment of a regional military force in Guinea-Bissau to oversee the withdrawal of an Angolan technical assistance mission, ensure the security of the transition and help with security sector reform.