Mali’s neighbours and donors are furious that the officers who led a March 22 coup are still meddling in politics despite a pledge to stand down. They have also criticised the coup leaders for failing to tackle separatist and al Qaeda-linked rebels in control of the north of the country.
ECOWAS is looking to send a 3,000-strong military force to Mali but the deployment hinges partly on ending a political stand-off in the capital Bamako. The coup leaders’ CNRDRE group last week resisted a call by ECOWAS to extend the mandate of the caretaker president that is due to expire in a week’s time.
“The ECOWAS Commission is closely monitoring the situation and will not allow any individuals or groups to hold the transition to ransom,” the bloc said in statement.
“It wishes once more to warn that failure on the part of the CNRDRE and their civilian allies to clearly reaffirm their commitment to the transitional arrangement in the next few days, and to refrain from any further interference with the arrangement, will be met with the immediate reinstatement of the targeted sanctions,” it added.
Mid-ranking army officers seized power in March in protest at the government’s failure to end a Tuareg-led rebellion in the north. But the coup backfired, triggering a lightning advance by rebels who now control two-thirds of the country.
The twin crises have led to disruptions in the local gold sector in Africa’s third largest producer.
Mali’s neighbours imposed foreign asset freezes and travel bans after the power grab but they were lifted after junta chief Captain Amadou Sanogo last month formally stood down to allow Dioncounda Traore to take over as interim leader.
Yet Traore’s stint in charge has been overshadowed by the military maintaining its grip on much of day-to-day power in the country and uncertainty over who should take charge once his 40-day mandate set out by the constitution runs out.
Backers of Sanogo say he should take the helm given the crisis in the north and the public’s lack of confidence in the local political class – a proposition that regional leaders and Western donors have firmly rejected.
Mohammed Bello Haliru, Nigeria’s defence minister, said that the regional force was awaiting orders to deploy to Mali. “We have all our forces and equipment ready for airlift,” he said.
But Sanogo remains hostile to the idea of ECOWAS forces coming to the country, as well as the bloc’s political proposal.
ECOWAS mediators left Bamako at the weekend after five days of failed talks aimed at breaking the deadlock. Sanogo suggested on Monday a national convention of political and civic society groups decide who should take charge of the country.
But in a statement issued on May 11, the United States underscored international frustrations with the coup leaders.
It said they had undermined democracy and hampered the West African nation’s ability to respond to the humanitarian crisis in northern Mali.
“We hold the (CNRDRE) directly responsible for the increasing suffering of the Malian people,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The northern part of Mali is now in the hands of a mix of Tuareg separatist rebels and Islamist groups, some of which are closely collaborating with regional al Qaeda cells.
The United States, which is one of Mali’s top donors and had spent millions of dollars on counter-terrorism training, has imposed sanctions on Sanogo and cut all non-humanitarian aid. Reuters