African leader meet on Mali, Bissau crisis

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West African leaders began arriving in Dakar on Thursday for a fresh summit on crisis-wracked Mali and Guinea-Bissau after both their governments were overthrown by soldiers.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) talks are aimed at “synchronising the regional response” to the political crises in the two nations, it said in a statement on Wednesday night.

The summit comes eight days after the regional leaders met in Abidjan, scrambling to find a solution to the new setbacks in a historically troubled region.

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, who has mediated in the Mali crisis, and the ECOWAS chairman, Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara, were to attend the talks in Senegal, which neighbours both the troubled nations.

Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore, who was appointed to lead the country back to democracy after a March 22 coup ousted leader Amadou Toumani Toure, was also invited as his country remains gripped by uncertainty.

Toure was overthrown by a military junta headed by Captain Amadou Sanogo, who quickly accepted an ECOWAS-negotiated deal to hand back power to civilians.

However the soldiers never really stepped back and continued to make arrests, targeting former allies of Toure.

On Monday and Tuesday, elite “Red Beret” paratroopers who had remained loyal to Toure attempted a counter-coup and tried to seize the airport, national broadcaster and a military barracks that has become the headquarters of the junta.

Hospital officials told AFP that at least 22 people had been killed in fighting between the ex-junta and presidential guard.

Burkina Faso's Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole said the offensive launched Monday night was an “unfortunate incident.”

But it “does not undermine the institutions, the interim president is still in place, the institutions remain in place,” he said.

However Sanogo still has his hand on the wheel and on Saturday nixed an ECOWAS demand for elections in Mali within 12 months.

He also has rejected a plan to send foreign troops into northern Mali, captured by a loose coalition of Tuareg and Islamist rebels following the March 22 coup.

Also on the summit agenda is Guinea-Bissau, where plans for a return to constitutional rule are clouded in ambiguity as the junta prevaricates.

Army chief Antonio Indjai led a coup on April 12, aborting an election process in the country which has a long history of military overthrows and chronic instability.

The junta initially accepted a 12-month transition programme brokered by the region, however three days later talks in Banjul collapsed and ECOWAS slapped the coup leaders with sanctions, saying Indjai was not willing to negotiate.

The junta said Tuesday the only sticking point was the return of interim president Raimundo Pereira as head of government, after he was arrested by troops along with other top officials but later released. - AFP

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