West African block to deploy troops in Mali, Guinea-Bissau | News | DW | 27.04.2012
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West African block to deploy troops in Mali, Guinea-Bissau

The main regional grouping of West African states has mobilized troops to help diffuse the crises in Mali and Guinea-Bissau. The EU has praised the regional bloc's "strong response" to the military coups.

West Africa's main political and military bloc announced on Thursday that it would deploy troops to Mali and Guinea-Bissau in order to help the two countries restore stability and civilian rule after military coups there.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said that it would send some 3,000 troops to Mali in order to help the country's military retrain and re-equip in the face of a separatist movement in the north.

In March, a group of military officers forced President Amadou Toumani Toure from power out of anger over his handling of an ethnic Tuareg rebellion in the north. The Tuareg rebels then used the ensuing chaos to capture the northern swath of the country and declare their own state, a move rejected by the international community. The Islamist wing of the rebels is rumored to have connections with al-Qaeda militants in North Africa.

"The heads of state and of government decided to take all the necessary measures in order to assist Mali in the re-establishment of its unity and of its territorial integrity," ECOWAS said in a release.

Ultimatum to Guinea-Bissau

ECOWAS also issued an ultimatum to Guinea-Bissau, calling on the former Portugese colony to accept a force of 600 foreign troops or face economic and political sanctions. The country's prime minister, Carlos Gomez Junior, was forced from power by the armed forces' so-called Military Command.

A spokesman for the Military Command said last week that any foreign army would be treated as an occupying force. Guinea-Bissau, which has suffered numerous coups since it won independence in 1974, has become a transit point for Latin American drug cartels transporting narcotics to Europe.

The European Union's Managing Director for Africa, Nick Westcott, said Brussels was supportive of the "strong response" by ECOWAS to the situation in the two countries.

"Experience has shown that, as long as the military have a stranglehold on the politics of the country, there will be no effective reform, no effective civilian administration, and no effective efforts to combat the drug trafficking which is known to be going on," Westcott said. "Now is finally an opportunity to remove the military, but clearly it's reluctant to go voluntarily."

slk/av (AP, AFP, Reuters)