Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced on Monday that it will soon launch a mediation process in Mali, where Tuareg rebels have launched a rebellion against the government since January, leaving many dead and sending thousands fleeing to neighbouring countries.
''In the coming days, ECOWAS intends to launch a mediation process in Mali, within the framework of a general ceasefire agreement, aimed at bringing all the stakeholders to the negotiating table in the quest for a peaceful solution to the crisis,'' ECOWAS Commission President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo was quoted as saying in a statement obtained by PANA here.
''The mediation initiative being proposed by ECOWAS shall be carried out in cooperation and consultation with all the states bordering Mali,'' the President said, urging all the parties to subscribe to the initiative.
He also called on the African Union and the international community to support the effort aimed at finding a lasting solution to the crisis.
The announcement of the mediation plan followed the powerful, fact-finding delegation of the ECOWAS Commission, led by the President, to Mali 16-18 March, which the Commission said brought the ''unfolding tragedy...into sharp focus''.
According to the UN, clashes between the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the government forces have forced some 195,000 people to flee their homes, most of them to neighbouring countries, including Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
Many people have also been killed since the Tuareg rebels, many of them returning from Libya where they fought on the side of the Kadhafi regime, launched a massive offensive to back their long-standing demand for autonomy in northern Mali.
The ECOWAS Commission deplored the ''unnecessary loss of lives and property, the mass refugee flows and internal displacement, as well as the collapse of central authority in certain parts of the north''.
The Commission also reiterated its solidarity with the government of Mali, and vowed to ''take all necessary measures to assist the country to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensure the continuity of constitutional rule in the country''.
It called on humanitarian agencies and the international community to join ECOWAS in taking all necessary measures to guarantee protection, relief and support for the populations adversely affected by the rebellion.
The fact-finding mission was dispatched to Mali at the request of the ECOWAS Chairman, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.
Following an earlier humanitarian mission to Mali last month to assess the situation in the country in the aftermath of the outbreak of the rebellion, the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council approved the release of US$3 million by the Commission to provide humanitarian assistance to victims of food crisis and rebel attacks in the Sahel-Sahara region of West Africa.
-0- PANA SEG 19Mar2012