(Reuters) – The African Union (AU) on Tuesday called for dialogue between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and junta-led countries Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso who have said they will leave the bloc.
The trio’s decision to exit ECOWAS, which they announced on Sunday, is a blow to the bloc’s regional integration efforts after it suspended them following coups.
The AU had backed ECOWAS’ efforts to restore democracy.
“The Chairperson of the African Union Commission H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat learned with deep regret of the announcement of the withdrawal of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso from ECOWAS,” the AU said in a statement.
“(He) calls for combined efforts so that the irreplaceable unity of ECOWAS is preserved and African solidarity strengthened.”
He urged regional leaders to intensify dialogue between the ECOWAS leadership and the three countries, and said the AU was available to help.
Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger’s foreign ministries formally notified the ECOWAS Commission of their decisions to leave the bloc in written notices dated Jan. 29.
According to the bloc’s treaty, member states wishing to withdraw must give a written one-year notice. So the move to quit the 15-member bloc could yet take time to implement, opening a door for negotiations.
The trio’s stance towards ECOWAS has highlighted tumult across the region where armies have struggled to contain Islamist militants since seizing power in several countries.
(Writing by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Alexander Winning and Andrew Cawthorne)
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