Saturday, 07 July 2012 11:59
OUAGADOUGOU: West African leaders meet in Burkina Faso on Saturday with civil leaders from Mali amid moves to create a government of national unity to tackle a crisis in the north where Islamists have enforced sharia law.
Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, a mediator for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), will preside over the talks in Ouagadougou with six other regional leaders but with Mali's leaders notable by their absence.
Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore has been receiving medical care in Paris since being attacked in his office in May and will not be attending.
An official in Mali's national assembly said Thursday that Traore's decision not to attend the Ouagadougou talks had less to do with his condition than with perceptions in his home country, where he has not returned since the incident.
Renegade soldiers toppled the elected president on March 22 but, under intense regional and international pressure, later agreed to hand power back to a civilian administration.
Traore was attacked by a group of people backing the coup. There was no reason given for the absence of Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra, though his relations with ECOWAS have been strained as the regional grouping looks for a more "inclusive" government in Mali.
The Popular Movement of 22 March (MP 22), which supports the coup of March 22, also announced it would not participate in Saturday's meeting in Ouagadougou.
Mali has continued its descent into chaos since then and is de facto split in two, with Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda controlling the north, a territory larger than France or Texas.
For ECOWAS the urgent priority is to reinforce and stabilise Mali's transitional authorities in order to handle the crisis in the north.
The option of a military intervention by a regional force in order to restore the country's territorial integrity is also on the table, though such a move would require the UN's blessing.
The UN Security Council on Thursday passed a resolution calling for sanctions against Al-Qaeda-linked fighters blamed for the desecration of the tombs of Muslim saints.
The council expressed "deep concern" at the increased terrorist threat in the north due to the presence of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters.
The group has been blamed for kidnappings and attacks in several west and north African countries.
But the council held back from giving a UN mandate to any West African force to help the interim government to take back territory from the Islamist rebels in the north.
Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012