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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday that it was essential for Mali’s transitional government to present an acceptable electoral calendar which could lead to the gradual easing of sanctions on the West African nation.

Mali’s partners in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday severed links and slapped tougher economic and political sanctions on the Sahel nation for delaying elections following a 2020 military coup.

The sanctions have led to escalating tensions and rhetoric between Mali and its partners including France and the European Union, which said on Thursday that it will impose sanctions on Mali in line with measures already taken by the ECOWAS.

Asked by journalists whether the sanctions could worsen the situation in the West African Sahel region which is battling attacks by insurgents linked to Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Guterres said it was a question that greatly concerned him.

“I believe that it is absolutely essential that the Malian government present an acceptable calendar from the point of view of the elections,” he told journalists in New York.

“Naturally, I am working with ECOWAS and with the African Union to create the conditions which can allow the government of Mali to adopt a reasonable and acceptable position to accelerate a transition which has already lasted for a long time,” he added.

Guterres said he held discussions on Wednesday with the presidents of Ghana, who chairs ECOWAS, Senegal and Nigeria, and with Moussa Faki, president of the African Union Commission, as well as with Algeria’s minister of foreign affairs.

“I hope to be able to get in touch soon with the Malian government,” he said.

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