West Africa's regional bloc on Friday said it would maintain sanctions on Mali over the military rulers of the Sahel country delaying a return to civilian rule after a coup.
At the end of a summit in Ghana, the Economic Community of West African States also issued warnings to the juntas that recently seized power in Guinea and Burkina Faso.
ECOWAS said military leaders in Guinea should provide "an acceptable timeline for transition" by the end of April, or it would slap punitive measures on the government and the National Transition Council.
The bloc added in a statement that if Burkina Faso's junta did not free former president Roch Marc Christian Kabore from house arrest by Thursday, "individual sanctions" would also ensue.
The talks in the Ghanian capital, Accra, came three months after the bloc placed tough sanctions on Mali.
They had opened "behind closed doors between heads of state," Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop tweeted earlier in the day.
The leader of Mali's junta, Assimi Goita, was invited to the summit, according to an ECOWAS document seen by AFP.
But it was unclear at the opening if he was in attendance, physically or virtually.
The summit came about a week after an ECOWAS envoy for Mali traveled to Bamako, but the talks on restoring civilian rule were inconclusive.
The 15-nation bloc is pushing for Mali's military, which seized power in 2020, to stage elections within 12-16 months.
But strongman Goita has so far defied international pressure to hold elections.
Four coups since 2020
On Thursday, the court of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) ordered the suspension of the Mali sanctions.
It was unclear whether the ruling would lead to the immediate lifting of the sanctions.
ECOWAS and UEMOA both applied economic and diplomatic sanctions on Mali in January after the junta had proposed staying in power for up to five years.
Mali's junta views the sanctions as illegal and vowed to challenge them in international courts.
Much of Mali, a vast nation of 21 million people, is plagued by a jihadist conflict that first emerged in 2012 and spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Goita seized power in Mali in August 2020, then installed an interim government led by civilians.
But in May 2021, he deposed those civilian leaders — in a second coup. He was later sworn in as interim president.
In September last year in Guinea, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya ousted elected president Alpha Conde, who had provoked mass protests by seeking a controversial third term in office.
And Burkina Faso's Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba toppled Kabore in January following two days of army mutinies amid frustration with the jihadist conflict.
ECOWAS has suspended the membership of the three countries.
Source: Voice of America