Despite the preparations for military intervention in Mali, where terrorists have seized a portion of the country, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has not foreclosed on dialogue to resolve the power struggle in the crisis-ridden country.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, told THISDAY in a telephone interview Monday that groups ready for discussions on the position of ECOWAS that the territorial integrity of Mali must be respected, would be entertained.
The Authority of Heads of State and Government (HOSG), which met in Abuja last Sunday, had agreed to a military plan to free Mali from Islamist fundamentalists who have gained control of the Northern parts of the country.
According to the war plan, ECOWAS member nations will contribute soldiers to the 3,300 contingent that will be used to dislodge the insurgents.
Most members of the troops may come from Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso, while other member nations and two or three non-African nations might also contribute soldiers to the ad hoc army.
ECOWAS's Chairman and Ivorian President, Alassane Ouattara told reporters in Abuja that the war plan would be sent to the United Nations for approval by the end of November.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) had given African leaders 45 days from October 12 to draw up the plans to rescue Mali or lose the continental initiative to the global body.
Ashiru said while ECOWAS would still go ahead with the war preparations to dislodge terrorists networks and trans-national criminals in Mali, it would continue to explore the option of dialogue to solve the lingering political crisis in the country.
On the planned deployment of troops, he explained that all the member states would be expected to contribute soldiers to the contingent.
"All the reports must get to the UN before the December 15, and the UNSC would have to give full approval for the deployment of the troops. So when that is done, that is when we will talk about the time for deployment," he said.
Meanwhile, the ECOWAS Commission has donated $382,000 to Nigeria to procure relief materials to cushion the effects of the flood disasters that ravaged 13 states in the country.
The President of the commission, Mr. Desire Kadre Ouedraogo, presented the cheque to Ashiru at a brief ceremony in Abuja yesterday.
Ouedraogo commiserated with all those affected by the disaster and noted that the money was just a token to show solidarity with them.
"No volume of assistance can bring back the lives or property that have been lost to the floods. Providing assistance to alleviate sufferings is part of our core mandate on conflict reduction and management," he said.
Ashiru thanked the ECOWAS Commission and its member states and promised that the fund would be judiciously used.
"This is a true demonstration of the fact that we are truly our brother's keeper in line with the African tradition where the misfortune of one is the misfortune for all," he said.