DAKAR West African leaders warned military juntas in Mali and Guinea Bissau on Thursday that further defiance of the 15-nation bloc's decisions would not be tolerated but stopped short of deploying troops to both countries.
Meeting in the Senegalese capital for their second extraordinary summit in a week, the heads of state heard that soldiers who seized power in both countries continue to reject proposals put forward for transition to civilian rule.
Soldiers in Mali staged a coup on March 22, precipitating a Tuareg rebellion that has left a third of the country occupied by armed groups with links to al Qaeda.
The coup in Guinea Bissau took place halfway through elections in the former Portuguese colony, which has endured decades of instability since independence in 1974 and become a transit hub for Latin American cocaine.
"The region will no longer tolerate this continued defiance by the Guinea Bissau military who, in disregard of constitutional rules, try to impose their will on the people," Desire Kadre Ouedraogo, president of the bloc's executive, said.
ECOWAS said after an April 26 meeting that it expected Mali and Guinea-Bissau to both hold presidential elections within 12 months, adding that it would deploy troops to the countries to help swiftly reinstate civilian rule.
The bloc reiterated its demand for a 12-month transition period in Guinea Bissau during which a review of the West African nation's constitution and electoral code would be carried out, adding that it will deploy troops to secure the transition period.
It also recommended that Guinea Bissau's national assembly hold new elections to renew its executive bureau so that the new speaker should serve as interim president and a prime minister will be selected to lead a government of national unity.
"The interim president and prime minister shall not contest in the presidential elections," ECOWAS heads of state said in their conclusion.
The bloc welcomed the release of Carlos Gomes Junior, Guinea Bissau's ex-premier and presidential election front-runner, and interim President Raimundo Pereira, who were arrested by soldiers after the April 12 coup, but did not say if they will participate in the transition.
The heads of state requested that the transitional Malian government of interim President Dioncounda Traore prepare a roadmap leading to the organization of elections.
Few details have been made public, but estimates of the size of the force ECOWAS plans to send to Mali have ranged from 3,000 to 5,000.
Mali has said it would resist any deployment of West African soldiers in the country.
(Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Michael Roddy)