Mali coup chief for talks with Tuareg

Ruling junta accuses fighters of taking advantage of coup as UN council calls for “restoration of constitutional order”.

Some normality has returned to the capital Bamako following days of looting and chaos after the coup [AFP]

Captain Amadou Sanogo, head of Mali’s ruling military junta, has called on Tuareg fighters advancing in the north of the country to halt their campaign and hold talks.

“We call on them already to cease hostilities and to come to the negotiating table as soon as possible,” said a statement on Monday. “Everything is negotiable except national territorial integrity and the unity of our country.”

Sanogo had already said that he wanted  to negotiate with the rebels, but he also has promised to give the army what it needs to halt the insurgency.

It was anger among rank-and-file troops at the government’s handling of the conflict that led to the coup. The junta has claimed its coup was sparked by the regime’s perceived weakness in the face of the Tuareg rebellion.

The fighters are being accused of taking advantage of the coup, and are negotiating with soldiers for a peaceful resolution in Mali’s strategic northern garrison town of Kidal, according to representatives of the Sahara’s nomadic Tuareg people.

Kidal would be a major prize for the rebels, who relaunched their decades-old fight in mid-January, led by battle hardened officers and troops who returned after fighting on the side of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

UN condemnation

Earlier on Monday, the United Nations Security Council expressed deep criticism of  the coup in Mali and added to international demands for the democratically elected government to be returned.

The condemnation puts the Security Council in line with the African Union and other regional organisations and governments in opposing the soldiers who overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22.

A formal statement released by the council said the “fragile security and humanitarian situation” in the Sahel nations, several countries that stretch across northern Africa, had been “exacerbated” by the return of thousands following last year’s uprising in Libya.

“The Security Council strongly condemns the forcible seizure of power from the democratically-elected government of Mali by some elements of the Malian armed forces,” read the statement.

The statement went on to demand that “mutinous troops” halt all violence and “return to their barracks. The Security Council calls for the restoration of constitutional order, and the holding of elections as previously scheduled”.

Also on Monday, the United States said it would suspend $60 to $70mn in aid to Mali but would continue to provide food and humanitarian assistance to the West African nation.

“We have now taken a decision to suspend our assistance to the government of Mali pending a resolution of the situation on the ground,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Domestic pressure

Domestically, leaders of the military coup face increasing pressure with Malian legislators and opposition figures seeking their departure as Tuareg rebels closed in on a key northern town.

In the capital, Bamako, days after the coup, several hundred people gathered at a meeting of 38 political parties who announced the formation of a united front against the junta.

“Our aim is clear, to get the junta to leave,” said Soumaila Cisse, who would have been one of the main presidential candidates in polls that had been planned for April 29 but were cancelled by the military rulers.

“This coup d’etat is unconstitutional and we will not accept it,” Cisse said on Monday.

The National Assembly issued a statement demanding an immediate return to constitutional order, the opening of all borders, the release of all arrested government officials and for elections to go ahead as planned.

In defiance of the coup, 14 government figures, including the prime minister and foreign minister, have begun a hunger strike over their detention at a military barracks outside the capital, which serves as the junta headquarters.

“There are 14 of us in a room of 12 square metres, sleeping three to a mattress,” said a message from one of the officials sent to the AFP news agency.

Source: News Agencies