Mali’s president, prime minister remain detained by mutinous soldiers

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s transitional president and prime minister remain detained Tuesday after being taken by force to the military headquarters hours after a government reshuffle left out two members of the junta that had seized power in a coup nine months ago.

President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were taken to the Kati military headquarters along with others late Monday. The African Union, the U.N. mission in Mali, the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS and other members of the international community called for their immediate release.

The garrison town sits about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the capital and is the former stronghold of the junta.

In a strongly worded statement, the international bodies that make up the local transition monitoring committee condemned what they called an “attempted coup” and stressed that “the military elements detaining them will be held personally responsible for their security.”

The group reaffirmed their support for the transitional authorities, calling for Mali’s political transition to continue on its course and conclude within the established timeframe.

“The international community rejects in advance any act imposed by coercion, including forced resignations,” the statement said. “They emphasize that the ill-considered action taken today carries the risk of weakening the mobilization of the international community in support of Mali.”

A delegation from ECOWAS will visit Bamako on Tuesday, the joint statement said.

The military hasn’t yet issued a statement about its actions. Bamako remained calm into Tuesday. Mali state TV only rebroadcast the official statement announcing the new government members.

The arrests came just an hour or so after a new government Cabinet was announced. Notably it didn’t include Interior Security Minister Modibo Kone or Defense Minister Sadio Camara, both junta supporters. No reason was given for their exclusion, but the move suggested mounting divisions within the transitional government.

Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said that while the military’s intentions weren’t immediately apparent, it’s likely the military hopes that the president and prime minister will reverse their decision and amend Cabinet appointments.

“The decision to reshuffle the Cabinet was taken in light of mounting criticism at the slow pace of reform and growing anger surrounding the prominent role given to the army,” in the prime minister’s first Cabinet, he said. “Although the officers were in turn replaced by other members of the military, both Koné and Camara are widely viewed as pillars of the August 2020 coup.”

The developments raise new alarm about whether the transitional government will be able to move ahead freely as promised with plans to organize new democratic elections by next February in Mali, where the U.N. is spending $1.2 billion a year on a peacekeeping mission.

The two leaders were sworn in last September after the ruling military junta, under growing international pressure, agreed to hand over power to a civilian transitional government.

The junta had grabbed power a month earlier after mutinous soldiers encircled the home of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and fired shots into the air. He later resigned on national television under duress, saying he didn’t want blood to be shed in order for him to stay in office.

The soldiers then went on state television calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People and promising a swift return to civilian rule. However, Monday’s developments appeared to throw that promise into question.

There has been widespread concern that the upheaval in Mali over the past year has further set back efforts to contain militants linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Islamic extremists took control of major towns in northern Mali after the 2012 coup. Only a 2013 military intervention led by former colonial power France pushed extremists out of those towns. France and a U.N. force have continued to battle the extremist rebels, who operate in rural areas and regularly attack roads and cities.

Associated Press writers Carley Petesch and Krista Larson contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.

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