ECOWAS leaders have decided to close borders with Mali and impose economic sanctions in response to an "unacceptable" delay by the country in holding promised elections.

The ECOWAS meeting comes after months of increasing tensions over the timetable for restoring civilian rule in Mali after two coups and a military takeover.
The ECOWAS meeting comes after months of increasing tensions over the timetable for restoring civilian rule in Mali after two coups and a military takeover. (AP / AP Archive)

West African leaders have agreed to impose "very harsh" sanctions on Mali after the country's military rulers delayed a return to civilian government.

The leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to the measures on Sunday, during an extraordinary gathering of the bloc in Ghana.

The bloc will close borders with Mali and impose stringent economic sanctions in response to an "unacceptable" delay by the country in holding promised elections after a 2020 military coup, the organisation said.

The move is a significant hardening of the ECOWAS' stance on Mali, whose interim authorities have proposed holding elections in December 2025 instead of this February as originally agreed.

In a communique issued after the emergency summit in the Ghanaian capital Accra, ECOWAS said it found the proposed timetable for a transition back to constitutional rule totally unacceptable.

This schedule "simply means that an illegitimate military transition Government will take the Malian people hostage," it said.

READ MORE: Mali's return to democratic rule may take up to five years

Previous sanctions over Mali

The 15-member bloc said it had agreed to impose additional sanctions with immediate effect. 

These included the closure of members' land and air borders with Mali, the suspension of non-essential financial transactions, and the freezing of Malian state assets in ECOWAS commercial banks and by the central bank of the eight-nation West African CFA franc zone.

There was no immediate response from the Malian authorities, who have blamed the delay partly on the challenge of organising a democratically robust vote amid a violent insurgency.

Under previous sanctions, Mali's ECOWAS membership is suspended and members of the transitional authority and their relatives are subject to travel bans and asset freezes.

The new measures will be gradually lifted only after an acceptable election timeframe is finalised and progress is made towards implementing it, ECOWAS said.

READ MORE: Mali launches national forum on returning to civilian rule

Source: AFP