West Africa Leaders Lift Sanctions On 2 Junta-Led Neighbors

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — West African leaders attending a regional summit agreed Sunday to lift sanctions on two neighbors led by military governments that are now promising a return to democratic rule.

The summit of the Economic Community of West African States resolved to lift all economic and financial sanctions imposed on Mali and Burkina Faso, although those countries will remain suspended from the regional bloc, said Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, an Ivorian politician who has been serving as president of the ECOWAS Commission.

Guinea, the third country under sanctions, received no reprieve because it did not submit an acceptable roadmap toward elections, he said.

He said the suspension of all three nations from ECOWAS would remain in force until they hold elections.

In lifting the sanctions on Mali and Burkina Faso, leaders at the summit in Ghana's capital, Accra, accepted transition plans presented by military authorities in those countries. Mali's junta proposed scheduling a presidential election by March 2024. Burkina Faso proposed a 24-month transition leading to polls.

ECOWAS sanctioned Mali severely in January by shutting down most commerce with the country, along with its land and air borders with other countries in the bloc. The measures have crippled Mali’s economy, raising humanitarian concerns amid widespread suffering.

The wave of military coups began in August 2020, when Col. Assimi Goita and other soldiers overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president. Nine months later, he carried out a second coup, dismissing the country’s civilian transitional leader and assuming the presidency himself.

Mutinous soldiers deposed Guinea’s president in September 2021, and Burkina Faso leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore was ousted in a January coup. Burkina Faso authorities said Saturday that Kabore, who has been under house arrest, is now a free man.

The political upheaval came as many observers started to think that military power grabs were a thing of the past in West Africa, an increasingly restive region that also faces growing danger from Islamic extremist fighters.

Some leaders who spoke at Accra's one-day summit urged action as armed groups expand their footprint in the region.

“These terrorist attacks are now not only focusing on the Sahel, but also expanding to the coastal states in our region,” Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. "It is imperative for us to continue to implement our regional action plan against terrorism and to coordinate our various security initiatives.”

In the first half of 2022, the region recorded a total of 3,500 deaths from 1,600 extremist attacks targeting countries including Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria, according to Brou.

In Burkina Faso, where attacks blamed on Islamic extremist fighters are soaring, gunmen killed at least 55 people in the country's northern Seno province last month.

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This story has been corrected to show that Guinea remains under economic sanctions imposed by the ECOWAS bloc.