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West Africa’s powerful regional bloc agreed to lift sanctions against Mali’s military junta and accept Burkina Faso’s proposal to transition back to civilian rule in two years, a turnaround that means significant progress in a region plagued by coups and insurgencies, Agence France-Presse reported.

Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso saw coups between August 2020 and January 2022. Fearing the potential spread of takeovers and instability, the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed a series of trade and other economic sanctions against the three countries.

But ECOWAS leaders agreed this week to lift the sanctions against Mali, saying the country had made “enormous progress” in its preparations for a transition to democratic rule. Last week, Mali’s military government said it would hold a constitutional referendum and legislative election next year, followed by presidential polls in February 2024.

Earlier this year, the junta had proposed a plan to rule for five years but switched course after the bloc levied tough sanctions that exacerbated Mali’s ailing economy.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS representatives approved Burkina Faso’s two-year transition timeline. The Sahel country, currently handling a jihadist insurgency, experienced a military takeover in January.

Still, bloc officials noted that the situation remains more complex in Guinea, whose junta has refused an ECOWAS mediator and announced a 36-month transition, which African Union chairman and Senegalese President Macky Sall has described as “unthinkable.”

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