The Malian government and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, are yet to agree on the manner of military intervention by the sub-regional body to retake the northern part of the country, RFI radio reported yesterday September 19. The region was occupied earlier this year by Islamic rebels in a rebel onslaught that finally provoked the overthrow of the civilian government of President Amadou Toumani Touré.
It emerged from the meeting of ECOWAS Defence Chiefs and Foreign Ministers last week in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, that consensus was still to be reached on the request made earlier this month by the government of President Dioncounda Traore, inviting sub-regional peacekeeping troops. While the Malian government insists that ECOWAS troops should only be based in the north, authorities of the sub-region argue that it is difficult to run such an operation without a logistics base in the capital, Bamako, comprising civilian and military staff.
Sub-regional Foreign and Defence Ministers also met in Abidjan on Monday September 17 to approve a plan for the ECOWAS mission to Mali, the Voice of America, said. ECOWAS Ministerial Council President, Daniel Kablan Duncan, said they were able to harmonize their positions and define a road map for the type of collaboration to be established between the regional force and the Malian army, and the means and support to offer Mali's army.
ECOWAS has proposed sending regional troops to Bamako to secure what has been a weak transitional government and to help re-organize and train the Malian army. In a third phase, a joint Mali-ECOWAS offensive would then be launched to retake the north. But in its request, Mali ruled out foreign-troop deployment in Bamako, requesting only equipment and other logistical support. It also requested air support and five ECOWAS battalions to hold recaptured northern towns.
Ivory Coast's U.N. envoy, Youssoufou Bamba, told the U.N. Security Council that Mali's request fell short of the expectations of ECOWAS. He said the request for military deployment only for Phase III could hardly be fulfilled as it will be extremely difficult and strategically unwise to deploy troops in the north of the country without a coordinating centre in Bamako.