West African leaders have decided to send troops to coup-hit Mali and Guinea-Bissau to support their return to civilian rule and demanded coup leaders “return to barracks” in both countries.

At an extraordinary summit in Ivory Coast, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also said the two countries must prepare for legislative and presidential elections within a year.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, current head of ECOWAS, pledged a firm response to the instability “to prevent our sub-region from giving into terrorism and transnational criminality”. “The safety of Europe and of the United States now starts in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea,” Mr. Ouattara said.

The coup in Mali on March 22 allowed Tuareg separatist rebels and armed Islamist groups to take control of an area roughly the size of France in the remote desert north.

The troops would help with Mali's transition and “deal with any eventuality in the event of use of force for the recovery of the territorial integrity of Mali”, said ECOWAS commission chief Desire Kadre Ouedraogo.

ECOWAS did not say troops would be sent to fight in the north of Mali.

“We expect negotiations first,” said Mr. Ouedraogo. He said the first contingent would help ensure a safe transition but that, if talks failed, the deployment of combat troops would not be ruled out.

Keywords: Mali coup

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