Mali files lawsuit against "illegal" West African monetary sanctions

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Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of two military coups and new interim president, walks during his inauguration ceremony in Bamako, Mali June 7, 2021. REUTERS/Amadou Keita/File Photo

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BAMAKO, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Mali has taken legal action to get sanctions imposed by West Africa's monetary union lifted, lawyers for the country's ruling military junta said on Monday as it battles a debt crisis that threatens to wreck the economy.

Eight-nation regional monetary authority UEMOA on Jan. 9 told all financial institutions under its umbrella to suspend Mali with immediate effect after the junta - which overthrew the president in a coup in 2020 - reneged on a promise to hold early elections. read more

The UEMOA action severed Mali's access to regional financial markets and was taken in conjunction with sanctions imposed Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which froze Malian state assets, closed its borders and suspended non-essential financial transactions.

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The junta's lawyers said they filed two complaints on Feb. 15 with the UEMOA Court of Justice, the first seeking a repeal of the UEMOA sanctions and the second the suspension of their implementation due to the negative impact on the population.

In a statement, the lawyers referred without explanation to the sanctions' "absolute illegality".

Officials at UEMOA, which Mali had earlier this month already asked to lift the sanctions, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. read more

Mali has defaulted on more than 54 billion CFA francs ($93 million) in loan payments since January due to sanctions, and workers are starting to feel the squeeze as mass lay-offs take hold. read more

The junta is also facing the prospect of losing the support of the French forces that have since 2013 coordinated a multinational mission battling an Islamist insurgency in Mali and the wider Sahel region.

Relations between Paris and Bamako have deteriorated since the junta extended its hold on power, and France said last week it would pull its forces out of the country. read more

The junta's use of Russian private military contractors has also angered other European countries involved in the French-led and other military missions.

Senegal's President Macky Sall, who chairs the African Union, said on Monday that European troops were still needed in Mali.

Sall spoke in Dakar during a visit by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said Germany would take regional security experts' opinions into consideration when it made a decision in the coming months on whether to stay or withdraw.

($1 = 580.2100 CFA francs)

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Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan and Bate Felix in Dakar; Writing by Nellie Peyton; editing by John Stonestreet

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