West African nations slap sanctions on Mali

Complete trade, diplomatic and financial embargo announced by ECOWAS, as Tuareg rebels also increase pressure in north.

West African leaders have said they will impose severe sanctions on Mali, after the country’s ruling military failed to fully restore constitutional order in line with an earlier directive, as the UN Security Council plans to hold a meeting to discuss the crisis there.

Alassane Ouattara, the president of Ivory Coast, on Monday said a complete embargo, including closing borders to trade and freezing access to the country’s bank accounts, would come into effect immediately.

“All diplomatic, economic, financial measures and others are applicable from today [Monday] and will not be lifted until the re-establishment of constitutional order,” Ouattara, the chairman of the 15-nation regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said at a summit in Dakar.

A 72-hour deadline, set by ECOWAS, for soldiers to start returning to barracks expired overnight, as northern separatist Tuareg rebels said they had completed an offensive into the south, seizing three regional capitals in as many days as Mali’s army units retreated.

Mid-ranking officers, led by army Captain Amadou Sanogo, toppled Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 21 in protest of the government’s failure to rein in the rebels who are seeking to create a separate homeland in the north.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Mali’s capital Bamako, said ECOWAS would make a decision about sending troops to the northern areas in a meeting to be held next week.

ECOWAS has also asked legitimate authorities to start talks with rebels, our correspondent said.

This came as a US official with the United Nations said the UN Security Council would hold an emergency meeting on the crisis in Mali on Tuesday.

The US, president of the Security Council for April, called the meeting after a request by France which is increasingly concerned about the situation there.

‘Ready’ for talks

The Taureg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad earlier on Monday expressed a willingness to negotiate after they seized the ancient city of Timbuktu the day before.

“We are open to all attempts … [to] all means of negotiations through ECOWAS, through another organ or through big powers, we are effectively open, but for now we haven’t received any attempt of negotiation,” said Hama Ag Mahmoud, of the MNLA’s political wing.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra reports from Bamako

He said they were no longer seeking to expand their area of control, having secured the borders of what the group considers to be a Tuareg homeland.

“Our objective it not to go further than the Azawad borders. We don’t want to create problems for the government of Mali, and even less create problems in the sub-region,” he said.

“We don’t want to give anyone the impression that we’re gung-ho for the war. So, for the moment, we have liberated our territories, our objective is achieved, we stop there.”

Earlier, the rebels overran key areas that had been long-time targets of their movement, including Kidal in the east, the ancient city of Timbuktu, and the large garrison town of Gao.

The capture of Timbuktu came hours after the rebels took Gao, following a withdrawal by Malian army forces on Sunday.

Ahelbarra said that by capturing Timbuktu, the rebels had “managed to do what had eluded them for decades”.

Constitution reinstated

Threatened with sanctions, and seeking help from its neighbours to deal with the Tuareg offensive, coup leader Sanogo agreed on Sunday to reinstate the constitution and hold elections, though he did not specify the duration of the transition

Sanogo, who dissolved the nation’s constitution after grabbing power in the military takeover, said that the 1992 law had been “reinstated”.

He told journalists in Bamako on Sunday that the military rulers had “decided to engage, under the guidance of a mediator, in consultations with all the forces active in our country in the framework of a national convention”.

These talks should lead to the creation of transitional organs “to organise free, open and democratic elections in which we will not participate”, said Sanogo.

After that concession by the junta, ECOWAS agreed to mediate between the rebels and the military rulers.

“This is what ECOWAS demands, that the constitutional order be re-established,” Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, president of ECOWAS, told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

“And if the junta is now accepting this plan we do not see any other difficulty, we are ready to accompany them to restore normality and then we will see how to deal with the situation in the north.”

ECOWAS had vowed to starve Mali of funds from the central bank of the regional monetary union, and impose asset freezes and travel bans on individual coup leaders if order was not restored.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies