Mali's neighbors close their borders to punish coup leaders


Malian military junta supporters gesture at the airport in Bamako, Mali's capital, on March 29, 2012. A bid by west African leaders to seek a return to democratic rule in Mali fell apart Thursday when the team turned back mid-air after a pro-coup demonstration in Bamako airport.



Mali's neighbors have agreed Monday to shut their borders as part of tough sanctions aimed at forcing the leaders of last month's military coup to step down.

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Leaders from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, decided to impose the diplomatic and financial sanctions immediately, closing all borders between Mali and 15 member states and cutting off the currency flow to the country.

The sanctions will also block imports into the country, including fuel for vehicles and generating electricity, and represent the the strictest ever imposed by ECOWAS, Britain's Daily The Telegraph reported.

“All of the applicable measures are starting today and until the constitutional order is restored,” The Telegraph quoted Alassane Ouattara, the president of Ivory Coast, as saying after ECOWAS leaders met in a three-hour emergency summit. 

ECOWAS also announced it would "activate" the region's standby military force, VOA reported, adding that it was unclear when any troops would deploy and with what mandate.

The measures came as local Islamists who helped Tuareg separatists seize northern towns over the weekend began imposing Sharia, or Islamic law, ransacking bars and banning Western clothes and music, Reuters quoted residents as saying.

Related: Tuaregs: 5 things you need to know

The main aim of the coup by disgruntled soldiers was to hand the military more power to tackle the two-month-old Tuareg rebellion, whose stated aim is to carve out a homeland in Mali northern desert region.

However, instead is has emboldened the rebels to make further gains in an already troubled region, Reuters wrote.

Timbuktu residents said local Ansar Dine Islamists, who seized the town alongside Tuareg separatists on Sunday, had said they would impose Islamic law.

And in the northern city of Gao, Islamists were ransacking bars and hotels serving alcohol, locals said, while in Kidal music had reportedly been barred from radio stations and Western-style clothes banned.

ECOWAS has recognized the rebel threat, with Ouattara calling on "armed groups to halt their advance towards the south."

The Maliian junta, meantime, said it was ready to consult with civilians over a transition of power but said the priority remained the fight against the rebels.

"The CNRDR (junta) would like to reiterate that the most important priority at the moment is Mali's territorial integrity," it said in a statement read on state television.