The Economic Community of West African States has imposed severe financial and diplomatic sanctions on Mali as it continues to call for a return to constitutional order in the country. Soldiers who seized power in Mali late last month have so far refused to step aside. An emergency ECOWAS summit was held Monday in Dakar, Senegal.
Effective immediately, ECOWAS has closed borders between Mali and member states. Mali no longer has access to its neighbor's seaports. The West African monetary union has cut off currency flow to Mali, which uses the regional CFA franc, and frozen the nation's assets. ECOWAS has also imposed travel bans on junta members and frozen their personal assets.
Monday marked the end of the 72-hour grace period ECOWAS had given to the junta to hand power back to civilians.
The Tuareg Uprising
- Tuaregs are an ethnically Berber, nomadic people in West Africa's Sahel and Sahara regions.
- Tuareg fighters have staged multiple uprisings in Mali and Niger for greater autonomy.
- Current Mali rebellion began in January after Tuareg fighters returned from Libya, where they fought for Moammar Gadhafi.
- The conflict has driven about 100,000 Malians to neighboring countries, internally displaced more than 90,000.
- Losses to Tuaregs prompted soldiers' coup in Bamako Thursday March 22.
At the emergency meeting on Mali in Dakar Monday, Ivorian president and current ECOWAS head Alassane Ouattara said the military junta should step aside and return power to recognized constitutional authorities.
He said, however, the fate of ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure would depend on ongoing negotiations between the regional bloc and the junta. Mr. Toure is currently in an undisclosed location near the capital under the protection of his presidential guard.
The sanctions will likely suffocate the landlocked country, which imports many of its daily necessities, including petrol. ECOWAS says the sanctions will be in place until the military junta complies with the regional bloc's demands.
Disgruntled soldiers overthrew President Toure on March 22. The soldiers said the government had not adequately equipped them to fight Tuareg rebels in the north, including former pro-Qaddafi fighters who had returned heavily armed from the conflict in Libya.
Tuareg rebels, and a splinter group of Islamist extremists, have taken advantage of the chaos caused by the military coup to push south. Since Friday, they have seized three key northern strongholds, essentially giving them control of the northern half of the country.
President Ouattara says ECOWAS member states will issue statements condemning the rebellion and warning rebels to stop their advance. He says ECOWAS is immediately putting a military force on standby. He says ECOWAS military chiefs will meet this week in Abidjan to prepare the activation of this force.
ECOWAS is calling on Mali's constitutional government, once restored, to immediately open dialogue with the rebels with the aim of preserving the country's territorial integrity.
Junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo announced Sunday that he was reinstating the constitution and would hold elections, though he did not specify a date.
President Ouattara called the measures "a step in the right direction" but said concrete action must still be taken.