West African leaders urged a swift political solution in Mali on Tuesday, fearing an Islamist insurgency that has been nestled in the country since 2012 could take advantage of the fragile situation.
The 15-nation regional bloc known as ECOWAS met with Mali’s junta in Ghana. It had set the military chiefs a Tuesday deadline for naming a new civilian interim leader.
“The terrorists are taking advantage of the situation in Mali to flex their muscles even more,” said Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghanaian President and current rotating chair of ECOWAS.
“Today is supposed to be the day when the military junta in Mali is to put in place a government… That has not been done,” he said.
“The circumstances of life in Mali today require that closure be brought to the matter now. “
ECOWAS has also urged a return to democracy within a year.
But the junta, which grabbed power after a coup in August, said it would step down in 18 months.
After a similar coup in 2012, Islamic extremists took advantage of a power vacuum and grabbed control of major towns in northern Mali.
Only a 2013 military intervention led by former colonial power France pushed extremists from those cities and the international community has invested more than seven years into the fight against extremism there.