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West African leaders blast juntas in Guinea-Bissau, Mali

By AFP

ABIDJAN (AFP) - West African leaders Thursday urged the military in Guinea-Bissau and Mali to cease interfering in civilian affairs at the start of a special summit to discuss coups carried out in both countries.

In Guinea-Bissau "we can no longer tolerate this usurpation of power by the junta" which took control on April 12, said Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the current head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) who chaired the gathering of some 10 leaders.

The junta "must withdraw", allowing for a "quick" transition back to civilian rule, he added.

Mali, for its part, is now "in a period of transition" after the military agreed to hand back power to an interim government, but there too "civilian authority must be strengthened and made paramount," Ouattara added.

In the face of international pressure, the Mali junta agreed on April 6 to an ECOWAS-mediated deal to return the country to civilian rule.

But ECOWAS commission chairman Desire Kadre Ouedraogo warned Thursday that, despite the deal, "the junta still retains autocratic leanings".

Political parties in Mali have accused soldiers of refusing to return to barracks or submit to constitutional authority despite the formation of a new civilian government which includes officers associated with the coup.

The 15-member ECOWAS has said it is considering deploying troops to both countries.

Ouattara said the summit would look at ways to open "humanitarian corridors" into northern Mali where Tuareg rebels and Islamist extremists took advantage of the coup in Bamako to seize control, cutting off outside aid to local populations.

In Guinea-Bissau soldiers who took control on April 12 ahead of run-off presidential elections have sought to strike a deal with opposition parties for a two-year transition period that would exclude the former ruling party and its allies.

Talks earlier this week between the junta and an ECOWAS delegation failed to make any progress.

"Our firm reaction and commitment by our allies are more than ever necessary to prevent our sub-region from giving into terrorism and transnational criminality... the safety of Europe and of the United States now starts in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea," Ouattara said.

Also present at Thursday's meeting was Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, ECOWAS mediator in the Mali crisis, newly-elected Senegalese President Macky Sall, and transitional Mali president Dioncoundra Traore.

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