Mali’s Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, has reiterated the irreversible exit of his country, Burkina Faso and Niger from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), despite reconciliatory efforts from the bloc.

The military leaders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso broke away from regional grouping ECOWAS earlier this year and formed a confederation of their own on Saturday.

ECOWAS heads of state met in Abuja a day later and appointed the presidents of Senegal and Togo as mediators of dialogue with the three Sahel states.

Diop said Mali remained open to cooperation with ECOWAS during an appearance late Monday on state broadcaster ORTM.

But he spoke out against the possible introduction of visas for nationals of the three countries travelling within ECOWAS.

The three countries’ decision to leave the bloc was fuelled in part by their accusation that France was manipulating ECOWAS and not providing enough support for anti-jihadist efforts.

“Our heads of state were very clear in Niamey when they said the withdrawal of the three countries from ECOWAS is irrevocable and was done without delay, and from now on we must stop looking in the rear-view mirror”, Diop said on Monday.

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Mali remains “open to working with our neighbours and other organisations with which we share this space”, he added.

“We will have to maintain discussions with others in order to move forward, but I believe that the path we have embarked upon is not reversible”, he said.

Diop said the creation of a confederation was only one stage of the process, adding that “the vision is to work towards a federation of the three states”.

ECOWAS has said the three countries must abide by a one-year exit timeframe, but the juntas say their withdrawal is effective “without delay”.

The departure has raised concerns over the consequences for the free movement of goods and people within the region.

If visas are re-introduced, “we will be proven right in the sense that some ECOWAS officials have not abandoned the old methods of frightening and blackmailing people”, said Diop.

In “an integration process, there are gains and losses for everyone, but we must work to minimise the impact on our populations”, he added.

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