Malian coup leader promises worried neighbours that power will be transferred to civilians ‘in a few days’

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THE leader of Mali’s recent military coup d’etat yesterday said a power handover to an interim government – agreed with neighbouring countries – would take place in a matter of days.

The coup, which took place on 22 March, was led by disgruntled soldiers and prompted Tuareg rebels fighting a separatist war in the north to declare an independent state, adding to the chaos engulfing the West African nation.

Mali’s neighbours, who fiercely criticised the military takeover from a democratically elected government, said the coup leaders would have to step down before they would intervene to tackle the Tuareg insurgency.

Late on Friday, the junta announced it had agreed to begin a power handover in return for the lifting of tough trade and other sanctions.

“It is the will of the committee [junta] to quickly move towards the transition,” Captain Amadou Sanogo said at the military barracks outside the capital, Bamako, which has been the headquarters of his two-week-old rule. “In the next few days you will see a prime minister and a government in place,” he added.

A five-page accord agreed by Sanogo and the 15-state West African bloc ECOWAS for a return to constitutional rule did not specify when the handover would commence.

The agreement calls for ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, who is still in hiding, to resign. Sanogo’s junta must then make way for a unity government with Mali’s parliament speaker Diouncounda Traore as interim president.

New elections would then follow as soon as possible, given the widespread lack of security in the north, where the Tuaregs swept in, accompanied by groups of Islamists with links to al-Qaeda.

Sanogo, dressed in battle fatigues and showing signs of tiredness after three days of intense negotiations, called on ECOWAS members to help the Malian army with transport and logistics rather than send ground troops as they had initially suggested.

“The Malian army still needs help precisely on logistics and air support but not ground troops to help us solve the security problem in northern Mali,” said Sanogo.

“We have to sit and talk. If they want to help us it should be according to our needs,” he added. “Because of the exceptional circumstances that the country is going through, because of the institutional crisis and the armed rebellion in the north, which have badly affected the functioning of the institutions of the republic, and because of the impossibility of organising elections in 40 days as set out under the constitution. It is indispensable to organise a political transition with the aim of organising free, democratic and transparent elections.”

The declaration was welcomed by Burkina Faso’s foreign minister, Djibrill Bassole, who flanked Sanogo while he read the accord.

Bassole said afterwards Mali’s neighbours had agreed to lift sanctions which went into effect last week, including the closure of their borders. Landlocked Mali imports all its fuel.

A western diplomat in Bamako, however, said he feared Sanogo might renege. “We have to take a wait-and-see approach,” the diplomat said. I certainly hope it’s true and that the country goes back to civilian rule.”

The news comes after Mali’s Tuareg rebels, who seized control of the country’s distant north in the chaotic aftermath of the coup in the capital, declared independence on Friday of their Azawad nation.

The traditionally nomadic Tuareg people have been fighting for their own homeland since at least 1958, when Tuareg elders wrote a letter to the French president asking their colonial rulers to carve out a separate nation, called “Azawad” in their language.