Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - ECOWAS leaders Thursday ordered the immediate deployment of regional troops to Mali to help the country regain control of its northern region now being held by Tuareg rebels and their Islamist allies.
The decision was taken at an extra-ordinary summit of West African leaders in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, which was attended by 10 Presidents, among others.
The deployment of the ECOWAS Standby Force gives teeth to earlier threats by the 15-member regional body to use force, if necessary, to help Mali to regain its unity and territorial integrity.
The rebels, under the aegis of MNLA, capitalized on the coup in Mali to sweep through several northern cities, including Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, and then declared the independence of the northern region, which they called the ''State of Azawad''.
Despite the looming use of force to dislodge the rebels, ECOWAS continues to pursue its mediation effort, which is being handled by President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, in collaboration with Algeria and Mauritania. Nigeria has also joined the mediation
On the restoration of constitutional order in Mali, where renegade soldiers toppled the country's elected government 22 March, ECOWAS decided to limit the ongoing transition in the country to 12 months, during which presidential elections must be held:
That means that the mandate of the Interim President, Prime Minister and Cabinet will last 12 months.
According to a communique issued after the meeting Thursday night and obtained by PANA in Lagos, the leaders however warned the coupists, acting under the Comité National de Redressement pour la Démocratie et la Restauration de l‘Etat (CNRDRE), against engaging in any further arbitrary and unilateral action on their part in the course of the transition, saying any such action would be met ''with the imposition of targeted individual sanctions on the perpetrators''.
They also demanded that the transitional authority guarantees the right of return to Mali of the ex-President, Mr. Amadou Toumani Touré, who is currently in Senegal, and all other personalities forced to leave the country, as well as their safety and security while in the country.
-0- PANA SEG 27April2012