West Africa’s leaders on Sunday agreed to establish a regional peacekeeping force to intervene against jihadism and to help restore constitutional order in a region that has seen several coups over the last two years.
Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have decided to act to “take care of our own security in the region,” Omar Alieu Touray, president of the ECOWAS commission, said during an annual summit in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
“The leaders are determined to establish a regional force that will intervene in the event of need, whether this is in the area of security, terrorism (or to) … restore constitutional order in member countries, ” a communique from the leaders said.
Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso have been hit by military coups in the last two years.
The three countries have been suspended from the decision-making bodies of ECOWAS.
Region hit by jihadism and and political instability
Many countries — including Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, and southwards to the Gulf of Guinea — are also ridden with a wave of jihadism.
Their national militaries and security agencies have so far been unable to control the jihadist forces operating across borders, and have been cooperating with external actors such as the UN, France and Russia.
The 15-member political and economic bloc is yet to provide more details on how the force would be constituted but added that the region’s defense chiefs would convene next month to chalk out how it would operate.
On Sunday, the West African leaders also told Mali’s ruling junta to release, by the end of this month, 46 Ivory Coast troops it has held since July.
Ivory Coast says the troops were sent to provide backup for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, and are being unfairly detained.
If the soldiers were not released, ECOWAS leaders said they “reserve the right and they have taken the decision to take certain measures but they would appeal and call on the authorities of Mali to release the soldiers.”