Mali needs to focus on its security, Nigerian president says

Col. Assimi Goita, who has declared himself the leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, arrives to meet with former Nigerian president and mediator for the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, Goodluck Jonathan, at the Ministry of Defense in the capital Bamako, Mali Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. The military junta now in charge of Mali insisted Monday that former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had resigned of his own free will and was not overthrown, as the officers now running the country try to prolong their rule until 2023. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)
Col. Assimi Goita, who has declared himself the leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, arrives to meet with former Nigerian president and mediator for the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, Goodluck Jonathan, at the Ministry of Defense in the capital Bamako, Mali Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. The military junta now in charge of Mali insisted Monday that former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had resigned of his own free will and was not overthrown, as the officers now running the country try to prolong their rule until 2023. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PARIS – Mali needs to focus on its security, under threat from Islamic extremists, and put individual interests aside after a coup last week deposed the president and left a power vacuum, Nigeria’s president said Wednesday after discussing negotiations with the junta with a regional envoy.

West African mediators with the regional bloc known as ECOWAS suspended talks with Mali’s military junta Monday after failing to reach an agreement on who will lead the volatile country in a transition back to democracy.

The junta calling itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People has proposed pushing back Mali’s next election until 2023, while ECOWAS and others want a return to civilian rule as soon as possible. The junta's proposed time frame is more than double the time it took to hold a vote after a similar coup in 2012, and would allow the soldiers who overthrew a democratically elected president to remain in power for years.

Right after the coup, ECOWAS leaders said they were considering mobilizing a standby military force to restore civilian rule, but that prospect has become unlikely after thousands took to the streets of the capital Friday to support the junta. The regional group also shut borders, halted financial flows with Mali and threatened further sanctions.

The mediators told the junta leaders that “what would be acceptable to ECOWAS was an Interim Government, headed by a civilian or retired military officer, to last for six or nine months, and maximum of 12 calendar months."

"The Interim Government would then organize elections to restore full constitutional order,” former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan told Nigeria’s current President Muhammadu Buhari, according to a statement from his office Wednesday.

Jonathan served as the head of the group of mediators who held talks last week in Bamako, Mali.

African countries and the wider international community have expressed fears that Mali’s upheaval could allow Islamic extremists in the country to extend their reach. Mali has been fighting against Islamic extremists with heavy international support for more than seven years, and jihadists have previously used power vacuums in the country to expand their territory.