W. African bloc poised to send troops to Mali

Posted: May 04, 2012

DAKAR, Senegal - West Africa's regional bloc said Thursday it soon will deploy forces to Mali, a plan already rejected by the country's ruling junta that put down a countercoup this week in the country's capital.

Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, president of the commission of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, said the group intended to send forces immediately but needed to consult with its partners about financing a deployment.

The announcement came late Thursday after hours of meetings in the Senegalese capital that were aimed at resolving the political impasses in Mali and Guinea-Bissau following recent coups.

A group of soldiers toppled Mali's democratically elected president in March. The junta leaders then handed power over to an interim government in April, but have not stepped aside. This week, some soldiers attempted a countercoup, but all the strategic locations they managed to gain control of were quickly recaptured by forces loyal to junta leaders.

ECOWAS has previously said it intends to send about 3,000 troops to Mali to help retrain and re-equip the military after the political upheaval. The junta rejected the plan, though, saying not a single foreign soldier would step foot in Mali.

In the country's vast north, separatist rebels have declared their independence, and militants are trying to impose strict Islamic law.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the chair of ECOWAS, said instability in Mali threatens the peace of the region. "We would like for all the new Malian leaders to work together for a reunified Mali," he said, adding that negotiations would be initiated with the northern rebels.

Fighting in the capital between the junta and soldiers who were trying to oust them has killed at least 12 people.

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