By Lisa Vives
Presidents from five West African countries are stepping up efforts to end a crisis in Mali which threatens to topple the President of that troubled country.
The five regional leaders, Malian government officials and members of the opposition were meeting since the previous week following a month of street protests by tens of thousands of Malians that sparked clashes with police in which the United Nations says at least 14 protesters died.
Malians are said to be furious over government foot dragging on entrenched corruption, disputed local election results and army losses to jihadists.
Mahamadou Issoufou, President of Niger and current chair of ECOWAS, a 15-member regional, political and economic union, pledged that strong measures were being planned to resolve the crisis.
The opposition, called M5-RFP and headed by Mahmoud Dicko, a Muslim cleric, warned that protests would continue until Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita stepped down.
After a final meeting late last Thursday, Dicko told journalists there had been no progress, and nothing had been offered at the moment that was acceptable to them.
“M5-RFP demands the resignation of Keita or the satisfaction of our demands,” which include the establishment of a committee of inquiry into civilian deaths and a transitional government, the group’s spokesman Nouhoum Togo told Reuters news service.
Niger’s Issoufou rejected the call for President Keita’s resignation. “There will be no unconstitutional change of power in the ECOWAS region,” Issoufou declared.
This won’t be the first time that ECOWAS has intervened to settle problems in Mali. A coup by disgruntled military over the management of the Tuareg rebellion in 2012 and raging inter-ethnic conflicts, predominantly pitting the Fulani against the Dogon communities, brought harsh sanctions by ECOWAS leaders.
According to Human Rights Watch, Mali’s human rights situation deteriorated in 2019 as hundreds of civilians were killed in numerous attacks by armed Islamists in northern and central parts of the county allied to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The Islamists targeted Malian security services, peacekeepers, international forces, and increasingly, civilians.
Malian security forces, in counterterrorism operations, also subjected numerous suspects to severe mistreatment and several died in custody or were forcibly disappeared.
A U.N. force, called MINUSMA, established by the U.N. Security Council in 2013, continues to work in the country with a total of more than 15,000 personnel and 15,209 military personnel, police and others.