US pushes for release of detained Malian leaders

Washington places additional restrictions on security aid to Mali and threatens sanctions

Army members stand guard as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediators delegation meet with Vice President Colonel Assimi Goita about the Mali crisis, in Bamako, Mali, May 26, 2021. REUTERS/Amadou Keita
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The US on Wednesday condemned the Malian junta's efforts to once again seize control of the country by arresting the leaders of the transitional government.

"We are working closely with the local transition monitoring committee and other international actors to seek the immediate and unconditional release of those detained and resumption of the civilian-led transition," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

The US also endorsed a separate joint statement issued on Tuesday by the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and UN peacekeeping forces in Mali, which condemned the arrests as “an attempted coup” and demanded “the immediate and unconditional release of these authorities".

US condemnation comes after Malian transitional President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane resigned after the junta arrested them on Tuesday and detained them at a military base near Bamako.

UN peacekeeping forces are currently trying to gain access to Mr Ndaw and Mr Ouane.

Junta leader Col Assimi Goita first deposed former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in a coup in August. Following an international outcry, Col Goita pledged to move forward with elections next year – but the arrest of transitional leaders has cast doubt over that promise.

“The Malian transitional government’s commitment to a civilian-led transition and democratic elections in 2022 set the stage for Mali’s continued engagement with international partners to advance democracy, human rights, peace and security efforts,”  Mr Price said. “The events of May 24 put that progress at risk.”

He also announced that the US would suspend security assistance to the Malian military after first placing restrictions on aid to Bamako following last year’s coup.

“The United States will also consider targeted measures against political and military leaders who impede Mali’s civilian-led transition to democratic governance,” Mr Price said.

The EU has also threatened to place targeted sanctions on the junta.

The UN Security Council in a statement on Wednesday condemned the arrests, called for the release of detained officials and urged security forces to "return to their barracks without delay".
The 15-nation body also called for a return to civilian rule and the holding of elections within the agreed upon 18-month period.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric also called for a return to Mali's transition process.
"It is crucial that this crisis be resolved urgently as it constitutes an additional challenge that would negatively affect the implementation of the peace agreement," Mr Dujarric said.