ECOWAS envoy arrives in Mali for talks

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An envoy from West Africa's regional bloc arrived in Mali on Thursday, an AFP journalist saw, for talks with the military junta over restoring civilian rule in the volatile country.

Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, representing the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is due to meet junta officials in the capital Bamako, including the leader Colonel Assimi Goita.

Mali, a conflict-ridden Sahel nation of 21 million, is governed by a junta that seized power in August 2020 -- and has so far resisted international pressure to swiftly restore civilian rule.

On Tuesday, Jonathan urged Mali to transition towards democracy as soon as possible, describing the country's government as an "aberration."

He made the comments a day after Mali's army-dominated legislature approved a bill allowing the junta to rule for up to five years.

Jonathan suggested on Tuesday that the timeframe was unacceptable. "We are going to negotiate further with them, and see that they must reduce it," he said.

A document from an ECOWAS technical committee, seen by AFP on Thursday, proposes that Mali stage an election within 12 or 16 months.

Mali's army ousted elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after weeks of protests fuelled by frustations over perceived government corruption and an ongoing jihadist conflict.

Much of the vast former French colony is plagued by a jihadist insurgency that first emerged in 2012 before spreading to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the Sahel-wide conflict and around two million have been displaced, despite the presence of foreign troops.

France has thousands of troops deployed across the Sahel as part of its anti-jihadist Barkhane force -- the majority in Mali.

French President Emmanuel Macron this month announced a troop withdrawal from Mali after a breakdown in relations with the junta, however.

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