ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — West African regional leaders signaled Sunday that they will oppose an effort by Mali's coup leader to extend his time in power by four more years instead of holding a democratic election next month as originally promised.
The regional bloc known as ECOWAS had called for a special meeting in Ghana's capital after Malian authorities released a timetable a week ago that pushed back the presidential vote until 2026. The junta led by Col. Assimi Goita initially had agreed to hold a new election in late February, 18 months after it first seized power.
It wasn't immediately known whether the West African leaders gathering in Ghana's capital would further toughen existing sanctions against Mali's coup leadership. The bloc already has put in place travel bans and a freeze on financial assets of all members of the transitional authority and their families.
In his remarks Sunday, Burkina Faso's president said the proposed extension of the junta's time in power “is of concern to the entire West African region.”
“As much as we are aware of the complexity of the situation in this country, we are also convinced that all the political, economic and social reforms aimed at rebuilding Mali can only be carried out by democratically elected authorities,” said Burkinabe President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who is also the current chairman of the West African Economic and Monetary Union.
After overthrowing Mali's democratically elected president, coup leader Goita had promised to swiftly return the country to democratic rule. Doubts deepened about his intentions, though, after he effectively launched a second coup nine months later, forcing out the chosen transitional civilian leaders and becoming president himself.
Mali’s junta maintains that elections can't be held because of deepening insecurity across the country, where Islamic extremists have been fighting a decade-long insurgency. They also say it's essential to draft a new constitution and put it before voters in a referendum, a lengthy endeavor that would pave the way for new local and legislative elections before any presidential vote.
They initially proposed a five-year extension, but West African leaders said a new document sent Friday revises that to four years total.
The French military, which helped push the militants from power in northern Mali in 2013, is now in the process of drawing down its troop presence in Mali. Many fear their departure will only deepen the crisis despite the presence of U.N. peacekeepers and regional forces bolstering Malian troops' efforts.
Critics of the junta fear that the political turmoil will further undermine the Malian military's response to Islamic extremist attacks at a time when they will increasingly be bearing the responsibility for fighting militants.
Krista Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.