DAKAR  - West African leaders on Monday hit Mali’s junta with a complete embargo, closing borders to trade and freezing access to the country’s bank account, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also announced its military force was being placed on immediate standby and they would decide this week how it would be deployed. “All diplomatic, economic, financial measures and others are applicable from today (Monday) and will not be lifted until the reestablishment of constitutional order,” said Ouattara, chairman of the 15-nation regional bloc. The embargo involves all countries neighbouring Mali, the Ivorian leader said. The landlocked country depends heavily on the import of fuel and basic goods from surrounding nations.

The embargo, which comes after the Mali junta failed to meet a 72-hour deadline to restore democracy after ousting President Amadou Toumani Toure, will also cut the putschists off from the central bank in Dakar.

As Mali is part of a regional monetary union this will dry up funds in the nation and affect the junta’s ability to pay public wages.

On the military side, Ouattara said: “We have decided to immediately put in place the ECOWAS standby force, asking the committee of chiefs of staff to meet in Abidjan this week to decide on the method of activating this force.

“The situation in Mali is extremely serious, it is a blow to democracy and an attack on the territorial integrity of this country,” he added.

“It is not acceptable. A return to constitutional order and territorial integrity must take place as soon as possible.”

The hard line taken by west African leaders showed they were not convinced by the junta’s concessions when on Sunday they promised to restore the original constitution, suspended when they seized power on March 22.

“The junta’s declarations go in the right direction, but they must be effective, the junta must distance itself and hand power over to recognised constitutional authorities,” said Ouattara.

ECOWAS had already placed on alert some 2,000 regional troops, as Tuareg rebels and Islamist groups seized the three northern regional capitals of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu in a series of advances over three days.

The soldiers who seized power justified the coup by saying government was unable to handle the northern insurrection.

But the power vacuum their coup created has served the interests of the rebels who have met little resistance from the army.

Their military gains effectively put them in control of more than half of the west African nation.