West African Bloc Suspends Mali, Coup Leader Retains Control

West African leaders suspended Mali from a regional bloc Sunday, but didn’t call for coup leader Assimi Goita to hand over power after the country’s second military takeover in nine months.

The suspension from the Economic Community of West African States will remain in force until the nation returns to constitutional rule, Ghana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Shirley Ayorkor Botchway told reporters in the capital, Accra, following an emergency meeting on Mali’s latest political crisis.

No call was made by ECOWAS for Goita, who was appointed interim president Friday, to step down or for trade sanctions to be imposed as was the case when President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was overthrown last year.

By saying nothing about Goita’s appointment, regional leaders “implicitly recognized him as head of state,” J. Peter Pham, the former U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel now with the Atlantic Council, said on Twitter Monday. However, Mali’s coup leaders remain under pressure from regional authorities and Western partners to restore civilian rule.

The 15-member regional bloc has insisted Mali’s transition, which is supposed to end with new polls in February, is led by a civilian. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, who chairs the ECOWAS, urged the transition government to appoint a civilian prime minister within days.

Mali must hold elections no later than Feb. 27, France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement Monday.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in an interview with French magazine Le Journal du Dimanche, threatened to withdraw his country’s support from Mali if “there’s no longer democratic legitimacy or transition.” The former colonial power has a 5,100-strong counter terrorism force to battle Islamist insurgents in Mali and across West Africa’s Sahel region.

Goita, who led the second military takeover, has said elections scheduled for 2022 will go ahead as planned.

Cabinet Reshuffle

“ECOWAS has decided to work with Mali so that they do not derail from the transition toward a democratically elected government by February 2022,” Botchway said. “The West African leaders are appealing to all the international community to continue to engage Mali and assist them on the path.”

Goita met with West African leaders ahead of Sunday’s summit, two days after being named interim president by Mali’s top court. The 38-year-old military officer, who had also spearheaded Mali’s first coup in August, ordered the arrest of Interim President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane hours after a cabinet reshuffle on May 24 replaced two key junta members -- the head of defense and security.

N’Daw and Ouane, who were supposed to oversee the transition, resigned Wednesday while in military custody. They were later released.

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