Malian soldiers take president and prime minister to military headquarters

President Bah Ndaw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Defence Minister Souleymane Doucoure have been taken to a military base, sources say

Mali President Bah Ndaw is seen during his inauguration ceremony in Bamako, Mali in 2020. AFP
Mali President Bah Ndaw is seen during his inauguration ceremony in Bamako, Mali in 2020. AFP

Military officers in Mali detained the president, prime minister and defence minister of the interim government on Monday, deepening political chaos months after a military coup ousted the previous president, sources said.

President Bah Ndaw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Defence Minister Souleymane Doucoure were all taken to a military base in Kati outside the capital Bamako.

That was hours after two members of the military lost their positions in a government reshuffle, the diplomatic and government sources said.

Their detentions followed the military removal in August of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

The development could exacerbate instability in the West African country where violent groups linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS control large areas of the desert north.

Political instability and military infighting have complicated efforts by western powers and neighbouring countries to prop up the impoverished nation, contributing to regional insecurity.

The UN mission in Mali called for the group's "immediate and unconditional" release and said those who held the leaders would have to answer for their actions.

A delegation from the top regional decision-making body, the Economic Community of West African States will visit Bamako on Tuesday to help resolve the "attempted coup".

The announcement was made by the body, the UN, African Union, EU and several European countries.

"The international community rejects in advance any act imposed by coercion, including forced resignations," the group said.

The US State Department called for the "unconditional release of those currently being held".

Mr Ndaw and Mr Ouane had been chosen to oversee an 18-month transition to civilian rule after the August takeover, but they appear to have moved against the military's control over a number of key positions.

"The sacking of the pillars of the coup was an enormous misjudgment," a senior former Malian government official said.

"The actions are probably aimed at getting them back in their jobs."

The military's ultimate goal was not immediately clear. One military official in Kati said this was not an arrest.

"What they have done is not good," the source said, referring to the Cabinet reshuffle. "We are letting them know, decisions will be made."

Kati's military base is notorious for ending the rule of Malian leaders.

Last August, the military took Mr Keita to Kati and forced him to resign. A mutiny there helped to topple his predecessor, Amadou Toumani Toure, in 2012.

Mali has been in turmoil ever since. Mr Toure's departure triggered an ethnic Tuareg rebellion to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, which was hijacked by Al Qaeda-linked extremists.

French forces beat the insurgents back in 2013 but they have since regrouped and carry out regular attacks on the army and civilians.

They have exported their methods to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, where attacks have skyrocketed since 2017.

There had appeared to be cause for optimism. The transitional government said last month that it would hold legislative and presidential elections in February 2022 to restore a democratic government.

"It is regrettable but not surprising," said Peter Pham, former US special envoy for the Sahel who is now with the Atlantic Council.

"The arrangement agreed to after the coup last year was not perfect, but it was a compromise agreed to by all the major Malian and international stakeholders."

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Updated: May 25, 2021 04:28 AM

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