West African leaders meet, with coup-hit neighbours on agenda

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By Associated Press

ACCRA: West African leaders attended a summit Sunday as their regional bloc pursues its efforts to resolve the political impasse in three coup-hit nations and stem the growing threat of extremist violence.

A summit last month of the Economic Community of West African States put off imposing further economic and financial sanctions on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso. They were suspended from the bloc following military coups and are under international pressure to hold democratic elections.

Malian authorities recently announced a transition roadmap that includes scheduling a presidential election for February 2024 and a constitutional referendum in March 2023.

It remains to be seen if participants at Sunday’s summit in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. will accept the proposal.

ECOWAS sanctioned Mali in January by shutting down most commerce with the country, along with its land and air borders with other countries in the bloc. The measures have crippled Mali’s economy.

The juntas in Guinea and Burkina Faso have proposed three-year transition periods, which ECOWAS rejected as too long a wait for elections.

The wave of military coups began in August 2020, when Col. Assimi Goita and other soldiers overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president. Nine months later, he carried out a second coup, dismissing the country’s civilian transitional leader and assuming the presidency himself.

Mutinous soldiers deposed Guinea’s president in September 2021, and Burkina Faso’s leader was ousted in a January coup.

The political upheaval came as many observers started to think that military power grabs were a thing of the past in West Africa, an increasingly restive region that also faces growing danger from Islamic extremist fighters.

Some leaders who spoke at Accra’s one-day summit urged action as armed groups expand their footprint in the region.

“These terrorist attacks are now not only focusing on the Sahel, but also expanding to the coastal states in our region,” Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. “It is imperative for us to continue to implement our regional action plan against terrorism and to coordinate our various security initiatives.”

In the first half of 2022, the region recorded a total of 3,500 deaths from 1,600 extremist attacks targeting countries including Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria, said Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, an Ivorian politician who has been serving as president of the ECOWAS Commission.

In Burkina Faso, where attacks blamed on Islamic extremist fighters are soaring, gunmen killed at least 55 people in the country’s northern Seno province last month.