W.Africa bloc orders Mali rebels to end attacks

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West African regional group ECOWAS ordered Tuareg rebels to end hostilities against the Malian authorities and to give up the territories they occupy, in an effort to quell violence which has killed dozens this year.

Thousands of civilians have been forced from their homes since the MNLA rebels, boosted by ethnic allies who returned to Mali after fighting for Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, started attacking towns and army bases last month.
“(ECOWAS) strongly condemned the MNLA rebellion in Mali and expressed its full support for the efforts being exerted by Mali to defend its territorial integrity,” an ECOWAS communique said, Reuters reports.
“Calling for an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities by the rebels … ordered them to immediately surrender all occupied zones,” the group’s release said, after a two-day summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

The 16-member regional group said it had approved the release of $3 million to assist Mali with the humanitarian consequences of the rebellion.

Mali’s neighbour Senegal is due to hold elections on Feb. 26 but people protested on the streets of the capital Dakar this week against President Abdoulaye Wade’s decision to seek a third term in office. Riot police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and water cannons.

ECOWAS said it would send a joint mission with the African Union, headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, to engage Senegalese politicians in dialogue.

INCREASED CLOUT

After years of criticism for being a toothless body, ECOWAS has in recent years taken a stronger stance against coups and flawed elections, notably in Niger, Guinea and Ivory Coast – the world’s No. 1 cocoa exporter.

ECOWAS suspended Niger in 2009 after then-president Mamadou Tandja altered the constitution to extend his term in power, and it applied pressure on Gbagbo after he refused to recognise his loss in 2010 elections.

ECOWAS voted Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara as its new chairman on Friday, just over a year after he won an election that sparked a four-month civil war.

Ouattara won a December 2010 election in Ivory Coast but incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power, leading to a conflict that killed some 3,000 people.

As the chairman of ECOWAS, Ouattara will host group summits and becomes a prominent voice for the region. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, during his time as chairman, won international praise for leading efforts by ECOWAS to put pressure on Gbagbo to cede power.

Desire Ouedraogo, former Burkina Faso prime minister, was chosen as ECOWAS commission president. He takes over from former Ghanaian foreign minister James Victor Gbeho.