- ECOWAS chairman says weekend steps were "not sufficient" to stay sanctions
- The sanctions will remain until Mali's democratic government is restored, Ouattara says
- Military officers deposed Mali's president in March
West African countries slapped Mali's ruling military junta with economic sanctions Monday, saying steps toward restoring democratic rule announced over the weekend weren't enough.
The Economic Community of West African States imposed an immediate travel ban by the coup leaders and imposed a diplomatic and financial embargo that regional leaders discussed last week, ECOWAS Chairman Alassane Ouattara said Monday.
"All diplomatic, economic, financial measures and others are applicable from today and will not be lifted until the re-establishment of constitutional order," said Ouattara, Ivory Coast's president. He said ECOWAS leaders will meet again this week in his capital, Abidjan, to discuss the possible activation of troops from member states.
Military officers led by Capt. Amadou Aya Sanogo seized power on March 22, overthrowing President Amadou Toumani Toure. The junta said Toure failed to properly equip soldiers battling a growing insurgency by Tuareg fighters seeking a separate homeland in northern Mali.
Neighboring states, Western powers and the United Nations have condemned the coup and demanded the junta restore Toure's government. ECOWAS had given the officers until Monday to hand over power or face sanctions.
Under the sanctions, the five neighboring ECOWAS members will close their borders with landlocked Mali except for humanitarian purposes. Its member states are to deny Mali access to their ports, freeze Mali's accounts in regional banks and suspend Mali's participation in cultural and sporting events.
Mali had been hailed as a shining example of African democracy, having experienced more than 20 years of democratic government. The impoverished country has no access to the sea and is heavily dependent on foreign aid.
The coup leaders on Sunday pledged to hold talks toward the establishment of a transitional government, which they said would organize "peaceful, free open and democratic elections in which we will not participate." But the statement did not specify when the meetings or the elections would be held.
"The measures taken by the junta are in the right direction, but are not sufficient," Ouattara said Monday.
Meanwhile, the Tuareg announced over the weekend that they had seized control of the northern regional capitals of Timbuktu and Gao, a major blow to the military government. Both towns are hundreds of miles north of the capital, Bamako.
Moussa Ag Assarid, a spokesman for the main Tuareg rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, said the group now "controls all of northern Mali."
"We are proud and ready to declare our homeland free from the south," he said. "Now the MLNA wants a nation."
Timbuktu was a thriving commercial hub and a center of Islamic scholarship in the 14th and 15th centuries, and it's home to three clay mosques that date back more than 700 years. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization urged the combatants to avoid damage to the sites, which were added to the agency's World Heritage List in 1988.
"UNESCO stands ready to share its expertise and experience to help Mali ensure the safeguarding of Timbuktu," Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement Monday.