West African leaders meeting in Accra have decided to uphold sanctions against Mali, along with the suspension of Burkina Faso and Guinea from the bloc. The measures could be lifted if the military rulers in all three countries speed up plans for a return to civilian rule.
Sunday's comment came a day after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met in the Ghanaian capital Accra to decide how to deal with Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, where the military has seized power with no plans to return to civilian rule for several years.
All three nations are currently suspended from the 15-nation body - which imposed strict economic and financial sanctions on Mali in January - and is threatening to do likewise to Burkina and Guinea.
Saturday's meeting failed to come to a decision on the suspended countries, with the issue set to be addressed at the next ECOWAS summit on 3 July.
Speed up transition
In a statement, African leaders said they would "uphold" the punitive measures imposed on Mali on 9 January but continue talking to the junta in Bamako "with a view to reaching an agreement to ensure a gradual lifting of the sanctions".
This, they said, would depend on the junta accelerating the transition to democratic rule. The military initially said it would hold on to power for five years but after ECOWAS imposed sanctions, the transition was reduced that to two.
ECOWAS says the army must leave office within a maximum of 16 months.
In the statement, the region's leaders again demanded Burkina and Guinea come up with "an acceptable transition timetable".
Both military regimes plan to cling to power there for three years.
"Our objective has always been to find ways to help these countries return to constitutional order," Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo said on Saturday.
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Juntas resist ECOWAS threats
West Africa has seen a succession of military coups in the past two years.
There were two in Mali - in August 2020 and May 2021- followed by one in Guinea in September 2021 and another in Burkina in January 2022
ECOWAS, keen to stop the political instability spreading, has held several summits since 2020 and has piled pressure on all three.
However, the military presidents - Mali's Colonel Assimi Goita, Guinea's Colonel Mamady Doumbouya and Burkina's Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba - have all resisted the external threats.
They maintain their countries are facing severe domestic crises - including jihadist insurgencies - and they need "transition periods" to rebuild their states before they can organise elections.
ECOWAS voiced alarm at the growing social and political tensions in Conakry, and urged the military regime to "desist from any arbitrary act that undermines the rule of law".