First Published: 2012-11-11

 

Drums of war on Mali Islamists beat from Abuja

 

West African leaders meet at emergency summit to plot military strategy to wrest control of northern Mali from Islamist groups.

 

Middle East Online

By Cecile de Comarmond and Ola Awoniyi – ABUJA

West Africa: Dialogue won’t go on indefinitely

West African leaders met at an emergency summit Sunday to plot a military strategy to wrest control of northern Mali from Islamist groups as fears grow over the risks the extremists pose to the region and beyond.

Leaders from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States gathered in the Nigerian capital Abuja to approve a military blueprint that will eventually be sent via the African Union to the UN Security Council for review.

"Maximum pressure must be maintained with a strengthened military intervention plan," UN special representative for West Africa Said Djinnit said ahead of the summit's opening.

"Everybody wants a military intervention that targets only the terrorists... Our preferred option remains dialogue."

Mali rapidly imploded after a coup in Bamako in March allowed Tuareg desert nomads, who had relaunched a decades-old rebellion for independence, to seize the main towns in the desert north with the help of Islamist allies.

The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by the Islamists, who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing their version of strict sharia law, meting out punishments including stonings and destroying World Heritage shrines.

Discussions among West African states so far have involved the deployment of more than 3,000 troops from the region to Mali, with more contributions to be requested from other countries. An ECOWAS source has said military chiefs were requesting a total of 5,500 troops.

Regional leaders have stressed that dialogue remains the preferred option to resolve the crisis in what was once one of West Africa's most stable democracies, but they have also warned that talks are not open-ended.

Representatives from countries outside ECOWAS were also invited to Sunday's summit, including from Mauritania and Algeria, which neighbour Mali, as well as South Africa and Morocco, which currently hold seats on the UN Security Council.

Mauritania was represented by Foreign Minister Hamady Ould Hamady, while Algeria sent its minister in charge of African affairs, Abdelkader Messahel. Libya was also represented, an ECOWAS spokesman said.

Security was tight at the summit venue, with mobile phone networks inaccessible from inside as heads of state arrived.

ECOWAS Commission President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo has said the bloc should pursue a dual approach of dialogue and military pressure.

The UN special envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, a former prime minister of Italy and ex-president of the European Commission, has said every effort would be made to avoid military intervention.

But some analysts have questioned whether a negotiated solution is possible with Islamist extremists intent on establishing a theocratic state.

"There's a sense in which (military force) is the only course open, because clearly there's nothing to negotiate," said Jibrin Ibrahim, head of the Nigeria-based Centre for Democracy and Development.

At the same time, analysts and others warn of the risks a continued occupation of the north poses to countries beyond Mali. They say it could provide a safe haven to Al Qaeda-linked extremists and criminal groups.

The ECOWAS military strategy the leaders were examining Sunday was drawn up with the help of experts from the European Union, the African Union, United Nations and the region, which is also seeking logistical support from elsewhere.

Foreign and defence ministers from five European countries -- France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain -- are expected to meet next Thursday to discuss a European mission to train Malian troops.

Algeria, seen as important to any military operation, has been hesitant to get involved, preferring a negotiated solution.

While not a member of ECOWAS, Algeria is viewed as key due to its superior military capabilities, intelligence services and experience battling Islamist extremism, along with the long border it shares with Mali.

 

Britain wants ‘strategic partnership’ with GCC

Morocco PM statement on Russia’s ‘destructive’ role in Syria angers Moscow

Syria forces take control of Aleppo Old City

Over 40 people missing after ship sinks off Yemen

Qatar to invest up to $13bn on 'mega projects' in 2017

Turkish businessmen embrace Erdogan’s plan to boost lira

Syria rebels call for Aleppo ceasefire

Battle for Mosul advances deeper into city

Iran to sign deal with Shell in bid to boost output

Israeli missiles strike targets outside Damascus

Hollande condemns Russia’s ‘systematic obstruction’ of Syria ceasefire

Turkey doing 'everything possible' to push Syria talks between Russia, opposition

Turkish soldiers killed in Syria bomb blast

Russia army colonel dies after Aleppo rebel shelling

Libyan forces hunt remaining jihadists in Sirte

Iraqi jailed in Sweden for war crimes after Facebook post

Regime forces seize five Aleppo districts from rebels

Israeli artist erects golden Netanyahu statue in protest

Russia says US stalling on Aleppo rebel pullout

Saudi sentences 15 to death for being Iranian spies

US defence secretary says Mosul battle could end before Trump

US, NATO stress 'unity' as Trump raises doubts

Greece to extradite three Turkish coup officers

Egypt arrests 25 human organ traffickers

Israel far right hails bill to 'legalise' settler homes

Merkel says Aleppo situation ‘disgrace’

Iranian president says sanctions renewal proves US still ‘enemy’

Yemen arrests eight IS suspects in Aden

Turkey arrests opposition advisor over alleged Gulen links

Russia says OPEC, non-OPEC countries to meet in Vienna

British PM joins GCC summit for trade talks

Israel government nears deal that could 'legalise' settler homes

Yemen's Hadi would only give way to 'elected' leader

Russia says medic killed, others injured in Aleppo fighting

Greek court rejects extradition of Turkey officers

Sudan court frees 26 protesters

Syria rebels to reject Aleppo withdrawal plan

Libya loyalist forces capture Sirte

Israeli envoy to Turkey resumes work after 2010 fallout

New Iraqi law legitimising militias sparks controversy

Israel lifts ban on parcel post to Gaza

Russia, US to hold talks on rebel pullout from Aleppo

UN appeals for $22.2 billion in global aid

Air strikes kill at least 46 in Syria's Idlib

Kerry accuses right-wing Israelis of sabotaging peace process