The West African regional bloc ECOWAS called on Mali’s new military government that seized power last month to appoint a civilian to head a transition government by September 15.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) slapped sanctions on Mali after the August 18 coup, including closing borders and banning trade, and has called for elections within 12 months.
The military government has proposed a years-long, military-led transition back to civilian rule, but ECOWAS commission chief Jean-Claude Kassi Brou has insisted it be led by a civilian president and prime minister for a 12-month period.
In the final statement of an ECOWAS summit in Niger’s capital Niamey on Monday, Brou said Mali’s civilian transition president and prime minister “must be appointed no later than September 15”.
“It will be difficult for the Malian authorities to reach an agreement that is acceptable to … ECOWAS in the next few days to set up a transitional government, but if both sides make substantial concessions some kind of an agreement can be reached,” Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja, said.
“However, it remains to be seen whether they will meet the tough conditions set by ECOWAS.”
It was unclear what kind of leverage ECOWAS has over the military rulers to force the September 15 deadline, but the grouping could keep sanctions in place while tracking the consultations between the military government and various Malian factions.
ECOWAS earlier issued a new call for a “swift” transition to civilian rule.
“It is our community’s duty to help Malians towards the swift re-establishment of all democratic institutions. The military junta [government] must help us to help Mali,” ECOWAS’s outgoing chairman, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, said at the start of a summit.
During an extraordinary ECOWAS summit on Mali last week, Issoufou indicated sanctions would be “lifted gradually depending on the implementation” of measures allowing a return to civilian rule.
Eight heads of state – including Senegalese President Macky Sall, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, and Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo – attended Monday’s summit.
Mali has long been plagued by instability, armed conflict, ethnic violence and endemic corruption with widespread unrest building until a clique of rebel soldiers detained overthrown President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last month.
Within hours of taking control, the soldiers pledged to enact a political transition and stage elections within a “reasonable time”.
The military government held talks over the weekend with opposition groups on its promise to hand power back to civilians, after mounting pressure from neighbouring countries over fears of even more instability in the war-torn nation.
International powers fear continued political turmoil will further destabilise Mali and undermine a joint fight against armed groups in the wider Sahel region.