Mali post-coup talks flounder on transition to civilian rule

Many Malians attack idea of three-year transition

Colonel Ismael Wague, the junta's spokesman of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), which overthrew Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, speaks to the media after the meeting with Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediators, in Bamako, Mali August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Moussa Kalapo   NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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Talks between West African envoys and Mali's new military rulers failed to reach consensus on Monday on how the country should return to civilian rule after last week's coup.

Negotiators from both sides said ousted president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita no longer wished to govern.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States initially demanded that he be returned to office.

On Tuesday, Mr Keita was overthrown in a military coup that shocked Mali's neighbours, who fear that a fragile state battling extremism and an economic slump could slide into chaos.

But many Malians welcomed his removal and thousands took the streets to protest against him before he was overthrown.

Deadlock on the key issue of civilian transition emerged on Monday after the junta denied that it wanted a three-year handover period overseen by a soldier, despite reports.

"There were discussions on both sides, given that at this stage nothing has been set down, nothing has been decided, and that as far as we are concerned the final architecture of the transition will be discussed and defined by us," said its spokesman, Col Ismael Wague.

The chief envoy of the West African bloc, former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, said although there was some agreement, other issues needed addressing.

Mr Jonathan said the military rulers were told to "go and review" after hearing the bloc's opinion.

It sent negotiators to Bamako on Saturday to push for an "immediate return to constitutional order".

Talks began on Saturday and continued for the following two days.

On Sunday, a source in the West African bloc said the junta "wants a three-year transition to review the foundations of the Malian state".

"This transition will be directed by a body led by a soldier, who will also be head of state," the source said.

They said the government "will also be predominantly composed of soldiers".

This account was confirmed by a junta official, who told AFP: "The three-year transition would have a military president and a government mostly composed of soldiers."

But on Monday, Col Wague denied that the junta had approved any such plan.

"Any decision relating to the scale of the transition, the transition president, the formation of the government will be done among Malians" and be followed by "mass consultation", he said.

After taking power on August 18, the junta had pledged elections would be held within a "reasonable" time.

Many Malians took to social media on Monday to attack the idea of a three-year transition.

Negotiators will confer on Wednesday as to how to proceed, mindful of Mali's last coup in 2012, which led to a regional revolt that turned into an extremist insurgency.

Former Nigerian president and mediator for the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, Goodluck Jonathan, arrives to meet with Col. Assimi Goita, who has declared himself the leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, at the Ministry of Defense in the capital Bamako, Mali Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. The military junta now in charge of Mali insisted Monday that former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had resigned of his own free will and was not overthrown, as the officers now running the country try to prolong their rule until 2023. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)
Former Nigerian president and mediator for the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, Goodluck Jonathan, arrives to meet with Col. Assimi Goita, who has declared himself the leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, at the Ministry of Defence in the capital Bamako, Mali Monday, August 24, 2020. AP

They have already decided to close Mali's borders and issued threats of sanctions against the coup leaders, which the junta said on Monday that it would contest.

"It is the people who will suffer much more from sanctions," Col Wague said.

The bloc has already intervened in several crises in West Africa, including in Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Last week, thousands took to the streets of the Malian capital, Bamako, to celebrate the coup, which sparked global condemnation.

Mr Keita was elected in 2013 after running a campaign in which he portrayed himself as a unifying force in a fractured country.

He was re-elected for a second term in 2018 but failed to make progress against terrorists and an ailing economy.

An outcry over the results of long-delayed legislative elections in April has made him less popular, and in June a protest movement was born aimed at forcing him to resign.

Mr Keita, 75, told the envoys that he no longer wanted to return as president, both sides said.

"He was not forced to resign but he has resigned, and he is not interested in governance again," Mr Jonathan said on Monday.

"He wants a good transition so that the country will go back to a democratically elected government."

Col Wague said: "He said that for him it's over, he never wants to return to power again. He resigned voluntarily without pressure."

The coup leaders say they are holding 17 leaders at a barracks about 15 kilometres from the city after releasing two last week.