Soldiers arrest Mali’s President, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense

FILE PHOTO: Mali’s Transitional President Bah Ndaw arrives at the Grand Palais Ephemere for the Financing African Economies Summit, at Champs de Mars in Paris, France on May 18, 2021. Ian Langsdon / Pool via REUTERS reuters_tickers

This content was published on May 25, 2021 – 12:22 AM

By Paul Lorgerie and David Lewis

BAMAKO (Reuters) – Military officers in Mali arrested the interim government’s president, prime minister and defense minister on Monday, escalating political chaos just months after a military coup ousted the previous president multiple sources told Reuters.

President Bah Ndaw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Defense Minister Souleymane Doucoure were all taken to a military base in Kati, outside the capital Bamako, hours after two members of the army lost their posts during a government reshuffle, diplomatic and government sources said.

Their detentions follow the military ouster in August of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Development could exacerbate instability in this West African country where violent Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State control large areas of the northern desert.

Political instability and military infighting have complicated efforts by Western powers and neighboring countries to support the impoverished nation, contributing to regional insecurity.

The United Nations mission in Mali has called for the group’s “immediate and unconditional” release and said those holding the leaders should be held accountable for their actions.

A delegation from the highest regional decision-making body of ECOWAS will travel to Bamako on Tuesday to help resolve the “coup attempt”, said ECOWAS, the UN, the African Union, the European Union and several. European countries in a joint statement.

“The international community rejects in advance any act imposed by coercion, including forced resignations,” the group said.

The US State Department called in a statement for “the unconditional release of those currently in detention.”

Ndaw and Ouane had been tasked with overseeing an 18-month transition to civilian rule following the August takeover, but they appear to have moved against army control over a number of key positions.

“The dismissal of the pillars of the coup was a huge error in judgment,” a former senior Malian government official told Reuters. “The actions are probably aimed at getting them back to work.”

The army’s ultimate goal was not immediately clear. A military official in Kati said it was not an arrest. “What they have done is not good,” the source said, referring to the cabinet reshuffle. “We let them know, decisions will be made.”

The Kati military base is known to have ended the reign of the Malian rulers. Last August, the military took President Keita to Kati and forced him to resign. A mutiny helped overthrow his predecessor Amadou Toumani Touré in 2012.

Mali has since been in turmoil. Touré’s departure sparked an ethnic Tuareg rebellion to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, which was hijacked by jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda.

French forces defeated the insurgents in 2013, but they have since regrouped and carried out regular attacks against the army and civilians. They exported their methods to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger where attacks have exploded since 2017.

There seems to be a reason for optimism. The transitional government said last month it would hold legislative and presidential elections in February 2022 to restore democratic government.

“It’s regrettable, but not surprising: the arrangement agreed upon after last year’s coup was not perfect, but it was a compromise accepted by all major Malian and international stakeholders,” said said J. Peter Pham, former US special envoy for the Sahel, now with the Atlantic Council, told Reuters.

(Reporting by David Lewis, Paul Lorgerie and Tiemoko Diallo, written by Edward McAllister, edited by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

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