Mali’s membership in the African Union has been suspended with immediate effect and the impoverished country threatened with sanctions following a second military coup in nine months.
The AU “decides … to immediately suspend the Republic of Mali from participation in all activities of the African Union, its organs and institutions, until normal constitutional order has been restored in the country”, the body’s Peace and Security Council said in a statement late on Tuesday.
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The AU called for the military to “urgently and unconditionally return to the barracks, and to refrain from further interference in the political processes in Mali”.
It warned that if the military did not hand back power to civilian transitional leaders, “the Council will not hesitate to impose targeted sanctions and other punitive measures”.
Condemning the coup “in the strongest terms possible”, it added it was “deeply concerned about the evolving situation in Mali and its negative impact on the gains made thus far in the transition process in the country”.
The move follows a similar suspension on Sunday from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The coup sparked deep concerns over stability in the volatile Sahel region. Despite a 2015 peace agreement with some armed groups and the presence of 14.000 United Nations troops, attacks are intensifying in the north and centre of the country. Almost half a million Malians have been forced to leave their homes and 6.000 people have been killed.
“The situation is bad when I think of my country today in a state of war,” Moro Sidibe, the son of a soldier who is training to join the army, told Al Jazeera. “I am afraid for the future that is why I want to join the fight and go to the frontline,” Sidibe added. His decision, he said, was triggered by a military takeover in August in the hope to help bring peace to the country.
While Colonel Assimi Goaita was attending the ECOWAS crisis summit in Ghana on Sunday, armed groups affiliated to Al Qaeda shot security forces marking the latest attack in Mali’s Southern region.
Last August, Goita led army officers who overthrew elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, following mass protests over perceived corruption and a bloody insurgency. After the takeover, the military agreed to appoint civilians as interim president and prime minister under the pressure of ECOWAS trade and financial sanctions.
But in a move that provoked a diplomatic uproar, soldiers last week detained transitional president Bah Ndaw and prime minister Moctar Ouane, releasing them on Thursday while saying that they had resigned.
Mali’s constitutional court completed Goita’s rise to full power on Friday by naming him transitional president.
With the military going back on its previous commitment to civilian political leaders, doubts have been raised about its other pledges, including a promise to hold elections in early 2022. The military said this week it would continue to respect that timetable, but added that it could be subject to change.
“Our officers are bickering over government positions in the capital Bamako while African soldiers die in the frontline trying to protect our country, this is a humiliating situation,” Moussa Mara, the former prime minister of Mali, told Al Jazeera.
The United States and Mali’s former colonial master France had both threatened sanctions in response to the second coup.
But ECOWAS, at a crisis summit in Ghana on Sunday, refrained from reimposing sanctions – a move it had adopted after the first coup.
The 15-nation bloc still pushed for Mali to transition to civilian rule under a previously agreed timetable.
The bloc suspended Mali from ECOWAS until February 2022, “when they are supposed to hand over to a democratically elected government,” Ghana’s Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said after the meeting.
Mali is among the world’s poorest countries, and the previous ECOWAS sanctions hit hard.
It is also battling an armed uprising which first emerged in the north of the country in 2012 and has since spread to Burkina Faso and Niger, leaving swaths of the vast nation of 19 million people outside government control.