West African bloc may re-impose Mali sanctions

West Africa's regional bloc threatened Monday to re-impose sanctions on Mali, saying that the junta's actions "appear clearly designed to disrupt the political transition" after a coup in the West African nation.

The statement came as Mali's junta leader declared that the country would hold a national convention to choose a leader to rule until elections can be organized.

One of the key points of disagreement now between the junta and the Economic Community of West African States is who should be president of Mali once the current interim president's term ends May 22. ECOWAS would like the interim president to remain; junta leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo has said that this decision can't be imposed on them.

"The ECOWAS Commission has observed with deep concern the worrying statements and actions emanating from members of the (junta) and their civilian associates in the last few days," said a statement from ECOWAS.

The statement warned that Mali would again face sanctions if the putschists do not alter its behavior.

"Failure on the part of the (junta) and their civilian allies to clearly reaffirm their commitment to the transitional arrangement in the next few days ... will be met with the immediate reinstatement of the targeted sanctions," the statement said.

ECOWAS imposed heavy sanctions on Mali shortly after the March 21 coup, but lifted the measures a few days later when the junta agreed in principle to return the country to constitutional rule.

Sanogo on Monday summoned reporters to military barracks to announce the national convention, which he said would include representatives from all segments of Malian society.

"The main goal of this convention will be to choose the man or woman who will become president of Mali," Sanogo said.

The interim president was sworn in after an agreement between the junta and ECOWAS last month.

Under the Malian constitution, however, an interim president only has 40 days to organize new elections, which all parties agreed was not enough time.

"We hope this is going to be a Malian solution that will be accepted by everyone," Sanogo said of the convention.

He did not say how long the national convention would last or if the junta has a candidate in mind.

Although Sanogo officially handed power last month to the civilian-led transitional government, the junta's influence on current events in Mali is still strong.

Sanogo's National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State has yet to be dissolved. Sanogo still announces important decisions and forces loyal to him have carried out numerous arrests.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland issued a stinging rebuke last week, describing Sanogo's role as "interference."

"The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating political situation in Mali," Nuland said. "We call on the junta leader Sanogo to step aside and allow for the return of full civilian rule. The (junta's) continued interference in the government has undermined democracy in Mali ... We hold the (junta) directly responsible for the increasing suffering of the Malian people. The military needs to stand aside completely."

Sanogo hinted Monday that he might be willing to return his soldiers completely to their barracks.

"We are doing this with the best interests of the nation in mind, which we have always strongly advocated for, and even if it means the end of our own existence," Sanogo said.

Monday's ECOWAS statement referred to the fact that the north of Mali is currently under the control of Tuareg rebel forces and Islamist groups which took advantage of the coup in the capital to launch a major military offensive. The group condemned what it described as Sanogo's "persistent refusal ... to concentrate their efforts on the recovery of the territorial integrity of the nation and their continued interference with the transition, in particular the attempts to sideline the transitional government."

Once a model of democratic stability, Mali's political order was upended in March's mutiny at the Kati military barracks. The mutineers led by Sanogo initially only wanted to express their grievances, but after easily taking over the presidential palace, they realized there was no one standing in the way of a power grab.

Democratically elected leader President Amadou Toumani Toure was forced into hiding. He re-emerged to hand in his resignation in April, before going into exile in neighboring Senegal.