Mali postpones 'national convention'

Leaders of recent coup say they called off talks on country's future to allow other parties more time to prepare.

    Mali's military rulers have postponed a national meeting on the troubled country's political future after consulting with various parties who want more preparation, a statement has said.

    The current leadership "informs the national and international community that the national convention which was initially to be held on Thursday has been postponed", said the statement released on Wednesday. A new date is expected to be announced soon.

    The statement, which was signed by spokesman Lieutenant Amadou Konare, added that the postponement was decided after consultations with most parties involved in preparatory talks held on Wednesday at Kati, the soldiers' headquarters outside the capital Bamako.

    It called on the Malian people "to support this noble endeavour for the good of the country".

    Dialogue promised

    Embattled coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who is facing a barrage of sanctions and international condemnation, on Tuesday called the entire political class and all civil society actors to take part in the meeting.

    However, the United Front for the Protection of Democracy and the Republic said it "will not participate in said meeting".

    The coalition claims membership of some 50 political parties and 100 civil society organisations and unions.

    "We do not recognize the authority of these soldiers. This military committee does not have the legitimacy to convene such a convention to lead the way of this crisis," Tiebeli Drame, one of the leaders of the coalition, said.

    Sanogo on Sunday promised consultations with various parties in the country to put in place a transition government and eventually hold elections in which the coup leaders would not to take part.

    A delegation of officials from Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Ivory Coast were due to come to Bamako on Thursday in order to try to persuade the coup leader to cede power.

    Fractured nation

    The vacuum created by the coup has allowed Tuareg rebels in the country's north to make rapid gains and seize a chunk of the country from the state that is larger than France.

    They rapidly took the three main towns in the north, including Kidal on Friday, Gao on Saturday and Timbuktu on Sunday.

    Residents were cowering inside their homes as armed men pillaged shops and stole cars.

    Amnesty International said a pregnant woman in Gao was forced to give birth in the street because the hospital where she was to give birth was being looted.

    The military leaders in the capital alleged Tuesday that "grave abuses" had been committed by the rebels in the town of Gao, including the rapes and abductions of many girls.

    Ishakan ag Oye, the traditional leader of the Chateau district of Gao, said he held a meeting on Wednesday to get to the bottom of the rape allegations.

    "Since Sunday, people have been talking about this," he said. "But for the moment I do not have concrete proof. The people that said they heard this heard it from other people. I do not know the number of girls. I cannot talk
    without proof."

    Al-Qaeda fears

    The Tuareg rebels who seized power of the north are a confused mixture of Tuareg separatists who want an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, called Azawad, and an Islamist faction that wants to impose sharia law.

    Western governments are especially worried that the rebels may have been assisted by an al-Qaeda faction that calls itself Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

    There have been conflicting reports about whether members of the al-Qaeda franchise were involved.

    "We don't know who is who, and who is controlling what, and who is in charge," Ousmane Halle, the mayor of Timbuktu, said.

    He said he could not be sure if AQIM was present in the town.

    He confirmed that the secular rebel group known as the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad had taken over the airport of Timbuktu, setting up its headquarters there.

    The Islamist Ansar Dine group, he said, has based itself at a military camp in the middle of town.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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