West African bloc lifts sanctions on junta-led Niger

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The West African regional bloc said on Saturday it would lift strict sanctions on Niger as it seeks a new strategy to dissuade three junta-led states from withdrawing from the political and economic union – a move that threatens regional integration.

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met to address a political crisis in the coup-hit region that deepened in January with military-ruled Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali’s decision to exit the 15-member bloc.

After closed-door talks, ECOWAS said it had decided to lift Niger sanctions including border closures, the freezing of central bank and state assets, and the suspension of commercial transactions with immediate effect.

In a communique it said this was done for humanitarian reasons, but the move will be seen as a gesture of appeasement as ECOWAS tries to persuade the three junta states to remain in the nearly 50-year-old alliance.

Their planned exit would bring a messy disentanglement from the bloc’s trade and services flows, worth nearly $150 billion a year.

The bloc “further urges the countries to reconsider the decision in view of the benefits that the ECOWAS member states and their citizens enjoy in the community,” it said.
It also said it had lifted certain sanctions on junta-led Guinea, which has not said it wants to leave ECOWAS but like other junta states has not committed to a timeline to return to democratic rule.
ECOWAS Commission President Omar Touray said some targeted sanctions and political sanctions remained place for Niger, without giving details.