ECOWAS gives Mali until January to release 46 Ivorian soldiers

The leaders of West African states demanded Sunday in Abuja that the Malian authorities release before January 46 Ivorian soldiers detained since July, under threat of sanctions, West African officials said.

The heads of the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or their representatives met at a summit with the fate of these soldiers on the agenda, the source of a serious crisis between Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, two member countries, but also the consequences of the coups d’etat which have shaken the region for two years in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.

“We are asking the Malian authorities no later than January 1, 2023 to release the Ivorian soldiers,” Omar Touray, president of the (ECOWAS) Commission, told the press.

Otherwise, the sub-regional organization will take sanctions, said a West African diplomat, quoted by the media.

Mr. Touray also said that ECOWAS reserves the right to act if the soldiers are not released by January 1.

Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé, who plays the good offices between Mali and Côte d’Ivoire in this crisis, will travel to Mali to “demand” the release of the soldiers, added the West African diplomat.

West African leaders also looked at the situation in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, three countries in which the military has taken power by force since 2020.

ECOWAS, worried about instability and contagion, has been pushing for months for a return as quickly as possible of civilians at the head of these countries, two of which, Mali and Burkina, are seriously shaken by the spread of terrorism.

The three countries are suspended from the decision-making bodies of ECOWAS.

The authorities undertook under pressure to give way after two years and a so-called transition period during which they all say they want to “refound” their state.

West African leaders have examined the actions taken by each other on the path to what they call a “return to constitutional order”.

In Mali, “it is absolutely necessary that the constitutional order returns within the planned time”, said Mr. Touray.

In Guinea, Mr. Touray urged the authorities to involve all parties and civil society in the process of bringing civilians back to power. The main parties and a large part of civil society are boycotting the authorities’ offer of dialogue.

As for Burkina, Mr. Touray expressed “the serious concerns” of ECOWAS in the face of security developments and the humanitarian crisis. He affirmed “the will to support Burkina which is going through a major crisis”.

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