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ECOWAS delegation visits Mali, seeks assurance on elections

President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo(L) and President of Ivory Coast Alassane Ouattara (R), who are representing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)   -  
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JOHN WESSELS/AFP or licensors


Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo, chair of the West African bloc ECOWAS, has told Mali's ruling junta that elections announced for February must go ahead on schedule, his delegation said Sunday.

Akufo-Addo delivered the message to the country's strongman, Colonel Assimi Goita, during talks in Bamako.

Goita is behind both Mali's recent coups, having installed a civilian-led interim government under international pressure after the first one only to remove it in May, later declaring himself interim president.

But a senior member of the ECOWAS delegation told AFP: "Our message was unambiguous and we said it clearly: the elections have to be held on the scheduled dates.

"The aim was to get a firm message across, and we did," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.

An ECOWAS delegation will return to Bamako at the end of October when they hope to receive the assurances they are seeking.

Earlier Goita, who overthrew the elected president last year, met the Ghanaian leader at Bamako airport, Mali's presidency announced on social media.

Ghana currently holds ECOWAS's rotating chair, but Akufo-Addo was accompanied by Nigeria's ex-president Goodluck Jonathan -- who is mediating in the Malian crisis -- and Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, the ECOWAS commission president.

The local authorities briefed Malian state media only, an AFP correspondent said.

- Sanctions option -

The war-torn Sahel country is facing international pressure to swiftly restore civilian rule

Goita pledged to hold elections in February next year, but his government has been slow to prepare for the poll and the junta has suggested the deadline may not be met.

The ECOWAS visit also comes at a delicate moment diplomatically.

France is planning to scale back its military presence across the jihadist-ridden Sahel and Bamako has reportedly considered hiring 1,000 Russian paramilitaries from private security firm Wagner.

France has warned that any deal with Wagner would put its deployment in doubt.

ECOWAS last month urged Mali to draw up a timetable by the end of October of "key stages" ahead of February elections.

The regional group of 15 countries said a list of individuals and organisations would be drawn up who would face targeted sanctions if they delay the return to civilian rule.

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