Leaders from the West African grouping, ECOWAS, arrived in Mali on Saturday to try to push for a speedy return to civilian rule after a military coup. The delegation arrived hours after four Malian soldiers were killed in an explosion near the Burkina Faso border, underscoring the insecurity in the troubled nation.
The ECOWAS delegation, headed by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, arrived at the international airport in the capital, Bamako, just hours after four Malian soldiers were killed near the Burkina Faso border when an explosive device detonated as their vehicle drove by, according to a military source.
The explosion in the central Koro region came days after rebel soldiers seized President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after a mutiny, dealing another blow to a country struggling with a brutal Islamist insurgency and widespread public discontent over its government.
Mali’s neighbours have called for Keïta to be reinstated, saying the purpose of the delegation’s visit was to help “ensure the immediate return of constitutional order”.
An ECOWAS delegation official said they would meet members of the junta and later Keïta, who is being held with Malian Prime Minister Boubou Cissé in Kati, a military base northwest of Bamako where the coup was unleashed.
US suspends military aid to Mali
Adding to the international pressure, the US on Friday suspended military aid to Mali, with no further training or support of the Mali armed forces.
“Let me say categorically there is no further training or support of Malian armed forces full-stop. We have halted everything until such time as we can clarify the situation,” the US Sahel envoy J. Peter Pham told journalists.
The US regularly provides training to soldiers in Mali, including several of the officers who led the coup. It also offers intelligence support to France’s Barkhane forces, who are fighting jihadist groups in the Sahel region.
The freedom and safety of detained government officials and their families must be ensured. The U.S. has a longstanding friendship with the people of Mali and urges those involved to engage in peaceful dialogue. https://t.co/ezJ5IKcmAy
— Morgan Ortagus (@statedeptspox) August 19, 2020
Crowds celebrate president’s ouster, junta thanks them
Despite widespread regional and international condemnations, Keïta’s ouster was celebrated on the streets of the capital, Bamako on Friday with jubilant crowds gathering in the central Independence Square.
The demonstrators were mainly supporters of Mali’s opposition coalition, M5-RFP, who had demonstrated since June for Keïta to step down from power.
Although the coalition was not behind Tuesday’s coup d’état, they issued a statement expressing support for the downfall of the government and endorsing the junta’s plan to return the country to civilian rule.
“The M5-RFP welcomes the resignation of President Ibrahima Boubacar Keïta, the dissolution of the National Assembly and the government,” said the statement.
The junta in turn welcomed the coalition’s support at Friday’s rally in Bamako.
“We have come here to thank you, to thank the Malian public for its support. We merely completed the work that you began and we recognise ourselves in your fight,” the junta’s spokesman, Ismaël Wagué, told supporters of the M5 movement,
Mali’s instability mounts
UN team meets Keita
Earlier Friday, UN human rights officials said they were given access overnight to Keïta and other detainees. The UN peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, provided no details on what was said or on the condition of the captives.
Junta leaders have promised to oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” amount of time. They plan to install a transitional president who may be “either a civilian or a soldier”, the junta’s spokesman told FRANCE 24 in an interview on Thursday.
The junta’s spokesman Wagué told FRANCE 24 that the soldiers who seized power on Tuesday are “in contact with civil society, opposition parties, the majority, everyone, to try to put a transition in place”.
A council headed by a transitional president will be “either a civilian or a soldier”, Wagué said, vowing that the transition would be “as short as possible”.
West African mediation
The military overthrow has dismayed international and regional powers, who fear it could further destabilise the former French colony and West Africa’s entire Sahel region.
The coup is Mali’s second in eight years.
A putsch in 2012 helped hasten a takeover of northern Mali by al Qaeda-linked militants, and al Qaeda and Islamic State group affiliates are active in the north and centre of the country.
France, the EU, the US, the African Union and the UN Security Council have all condemned the latest military takeover and demanded the release of detained leaders.
French President Emmanuel Macron has criticised the coup, arguing that “the fight against terrorist groups and the defence of democracy and the rule of law are inseparable”.
A delegation from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expected to arrive in Bamako on Saturday.
The mission, led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, intends “to negotiate the immediate release of the president and also ensure the restoration of constitutional government,” Jonathan’s spokesman said, adding that the timing of the visit is not yet confirmed.
ECOWAS has already suspended Mali’s membership, shut off borders and halted financial flows to the country.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)