Mali Coup Leader Vows Quick Return to Civilian Rule

Posted April 7th, 2012 at 12:20 pm (UTC-5)
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The leader of the military coup in Mali says his junta can hand over power to an interim government within days – a key part of its agreement reported hours earlier with the regional group ECOWAS.

Captain Amadou Sanago told reporters “it is the will” of those involved in the coup to “move quickly” and step aside for an interim government of national unity, in order to lift the total embargo ECOWAS has imposed on the landlocked nation.

He did not say when the junta would turn over power, however, and there was no mention of a specific date or time in a lengthy accord between ECOWAS and Sanogo's group that was released earlier and broadcast by Mali's state television.

In Bamako, the capital, relieved civilians gathered in the streets Saturday, holding up signs calling for peace.

The coup on March 22 plunged Mali into chaos and led to big gains by Tuareg rebels battling Malian forces in the northern part of the country. Ironically, the coup leaders had justified their takeover by denouncing what they said was the former government's ineffectual campaign to suppress the Tuareg rebellion.

Mali's neighbors all criticized the takeover and the removal of President Amadou Toumani Toure. However, they also oppose the new “Azawad” state declared by the northern rebels. In their advance against the Malian army and seizure of Timbuktu and other areas, the Tuaregs have been fighting alongside members of the radical Islamist group Ansar Dine.

Through ECOWAS, Mali's neighbor states have said they will assist Bamako's campaign to restore its control in the north, but only after Sanago and his group step down.

The self-styled National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad controls Timbuktu, Gao city and other areas in the north. It declared itself independent Friday and said its military campaign was over. The heavily armed Tuaregs, former based in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya, began fighting in northern Mali in mid-January.

There has been nearly unanimous international rejection of the MNLA rebels' proclamation. In addition to ECOWAS and other African states, the United States, France and other European powers have said they do not recognize Azawad.

In his interview broadcast Saturday, Sanogo said his military colleagues would step aside after a committee of delegates from neighboring nations appoints an interim government.

He spoke late Friday at his headquarters in a military garrison at Kati, outside the capital.

The agreement with ECOWAS is said to call for a transitional government led by a consensus prime minister, and it calls for the lifting of all sanctions against Mali and an amnesty for coup leaders. The head of the national assembly is to serve as interim president to prepare elections.