Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara, chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), speaks during an ECOWAS meeting to discuss on the Mali crisis and Guinea-Bissau's coup, in Abidjan April 26, 2012. At left is Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe. (Image: Reuters)
Soldiers in Mali, a country once viewed as a poster-child of democracy in Africa, overthrew the government in March, while the army of the tiny coastal nation of Guinea-Bissau seized power and derailed elections with a putsch on April 12.
ECOWAS said it expected both Mali and Guinea-Bissau to hold presidential elections within 12 months, according to a statement issued after a meeting of heads of state in Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan.
It called on junta leaders to release people detained during the coups and ensure the safety of ousted officials, and threatened sanctions, ranging from targeted individual measures to economic action, if its conditions were not met.
Mali's coup took place as a Tuareg rebellion raged in its vast desert north and opened the door for the rebels, strengthened by fighters and weapons from Libya's war, to seize control of the region in the days that followed.
The junta that deposed president Amadou Toumani Toure weeks ahead of elections meant to replace him has since named a transitional government, marking one of the first steps toward the restoration of constitutional order.
In Guinea-Bissau, soldiers detained ex-prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior weeks ahead of a presidential election run-off that he was expected to win against rival Kumba Yala. They also detained the interim president, Raimundo Pereira.
The country's shadowy self-styled Military Command last week announced plans to set up a transitional government charged with organizing elections sometime in 2014, but the proposal was rejected by the United Nations, ECOWAS and the African Union.
The former Portuguese colony has suffered several army uprisings since independence in 1974, but this latest has been a setback to Western efforts to combat drugs cartels using the country as a stopoff point to Europe.