AU: Mali’s President Safe After Coup

Posted March 23rd, 2012 at 12:10 pm (UTC-5)
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The African Union says Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure is safe, a day after renegade soldiers announced they had toppled his government.

The head of the AU Commission, Jean Ping, told reporters Friday that the AU has received assurances Mr. Toure is at an undisclosed location near Bamako and is being protected by loyalists.

The AU suspended Mali's membership Friday at a meeting of its Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa.

The African body has joined the U.N., United States, and European Union in condemning the coup, and the EU and World Bank have both suspended development aid to Mali.

Soldiers took control of Mali's presidential palace late Wednesday, after expressing anger at President Toure's handling of an ethnic Tuareg rebellion in the north.

The Tuareg rebels have said they will push to seize more government territory in the wake of the unrest.

A leader of the rebel MNLA told VOA that the rebels plan to advance toward areas held by the Malian army, including the towns of Kidal, Timbuktu, and Gao.

MNLA second-in-command Karim ag Matafa said the group wants to remove the government from what the rebels consider Tuareg land.

Our problem is not with a specific government, he says. Our problem is with the occupation of our country.

The coup took place just a few weeks before the president was due to step down at the end of his second term. Elections are scheduled for next month.

Sonny Ugoh, an official with regional bloc ECOWAS, told VOA Thursday the coup heightens insecurity in Mali. Ugoh said ECOWAS had been working with Mali's leaders to try to negotiate an end to the Tuareg uprising.

“The president of the commission just led a fact-finding mission that returned from Mali where they held consultations, all with the intention of starting a process that would hopefully lead to a negotiated resolution of the crisis in the north of Mali.”

Well-armed Tuareg separatists started attacking army bases in Mali's desert in January, after many Tuareg fighters returned from Libya, where they had assisted in the ousting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The United Nations refugee agency says the conflict has uprooted more than 190,000 people in and around Mali. Many soldiers have died in the conflict.

Tuareg nomads have launched periodic uprisings for greater autonomy in Mali and Niger.