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Mediators to meet detained Malian leaders as pressure on army builds

West African mediators will be allowed to meet with Mali‘s detained president and prime minister Wednesday, a source close to the discussions said, two days after the transitional leaders were stripped of their powers by the country’s military.

The detention on Monday of President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, tasked with steering the return to civilian rule after a coup last August, triggered widespread international condemnation and the threat of sanctions.

The United Nations Security Council was set to hold an emergency meeting later Wednesday at France and others’ request, with French President Emmanuel Macron likening the recent events to a second coup.

A mediation team from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) arrived in the Malian capital on Tuesday and has now been “given the green light” by strongman Assimi Goita to meet with Ndaw and Ouane, a source close to the talks told AFP.

“We are here to help our Malian brothers find a solution to the crisis, but it is clear that ECOWAS could quickly announce sanctions at a future summit,” one member of the delegation, headed by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, told AFP.

Macron, whose country has committed more than 5,000 troops to Mali’s fight against jihadism in the Sahel, condemned the arrest of Ndaw and Ouane as a “coup d’etat in an unacceptable coup d’etat”.

“We are ready in the coming hours to take targeted sanctions” against those responsible, he said after a European Union summit.

On Monday, the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS, the EU and United States issued a rare joint statement, attacking the detention and demanding the pair be released.

That demand was echoed on Tuesday by Britain and Germany.

A senior Malian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Ndaw and Ouane had been taken to the Kati military camp near Bamako and “are fine.”

“They spent the night in good conditions. The president saw his doctor,” the source said.

A member of Goita’s team said that during the talks with the ECOWAS mediators, they had “explained their reasons” for pushing the two men out, and insisted that elections would still be held next year.

They said more talks would be held with the ECOWAS delegation.

Reshuffle sparks army backlash
Young military officers ousted president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last August after weeks of demonstrations over perceived government corruption and his handling of the jihadist insurgency.

ECOWAS, a 15-nation regional bloc, threatened sanctions, prompting the junta to hand power to a caretaker government that pledged to reform the constitution.

Ndaw and Ouane had been heading that interim government with the declared aim of restoring full civilian rule within 18 months.

But recently there had been signs of discontent among the public, with the opposition M5 movement demanding a “more legitimate” body.

On May 14, the government said it would appoint a new “broad-based” cabinet.

Designed to respond to growing criticism, the reshuffle saw the military keep the strategic portfolios it controlled during the previous administration.

But two other coup leaders — ex-defence minister Sadio Camara and ex-security minister Colonel Modibo Kone — were replaced, prompting officers to detain the president and prime minister.

‘Intent to sabotage transition’
Goita, who holds the rank of vice president in the transitional government, accused Ndaw and Ouane of failing to consult him on the reshuffle.

“This kind of step testifies to the clear desire of the transitional president and prime minister to seek to breach the transitional charter,” he said, describing this as a “demonstrable intent to sabotage the transition”.

The transitional charter, a document largely drawn up by the colonels, sets down principles for underpinning Mali’s return to civilian rule.

“The scheduled elections will be held in 2022,” Goita added.

But many have doubted whether the military-dominated government had the will — or the ability — to stage reforms on a short timescale.

“What we are experiencing today is the logical outcome of the flaws at the start of the transition,” when the junta sidelined civil society in the formation of the new government, said sociologist Brema Ely Dicko.

In the streets of Bamako, life seemed to continue as normal on Tuesday despite the ouster of Ndaw and Ouane, and many people interviewed by AFP said they were resigned to events.

Tahirou Bah, a civil society activist, attacked “putschist colonels…. (who) fight to the death for power” at a time when “80 percent of our country is under the control of terrorists, drug traffickers and bandits of every kind.”

But, he said, many people simply focused on day-to-day living — “This is survival for many Malians.”