West African envoys meet ousted Malian president, military junta 0

Delegates from the West African grouping, ECOWAS, met Mali’s ousted president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and members of the country’s military junta on Saturday in a bid to push for a speedy return to civilian rule following a coup in the troubled nation.

Hours after the ECOWAS delegation, headed by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, arrived in the Malian capital, Bamako, three members of the group were granted access to Keïta.

“We have seen President Keïta,” Jonathan told AFP late Saturday, adding that “the negotiations are going well”.

Rebel soldiers seized Keïta, Malian Prime Minister Boubou Cissé and other senior leaders after a mutiny on Tuesday, dealing another deep blow to a country already struggling with a brutal Islamist insurgency and widespread public discontent over its government.

The meeting between the ousted Malian leader and the three ECOWAS delegation members was held at an undisclosed location. No details of the meeting were released.

Earlier Saturday, ECOWAS envoys met with Mali’s military junta, including new strongman Colonel Assimi Goita. The meeting lasted half-an-hour, according to Malian sources.

Mali’s neighbours have called for Keïta to be reinstated, saying the purpose of the delegation’s visit was to help “ensure the immediate return of constitutional order”.

US suspends military aid to Mali

The ECOWAS delegation landed in Bamako just hours after four Malian soldiers were killed in a bomb blast near the Burkina Faso border,underscoring the insecurity in the troubled nation.

Adding to the international pressure to return Mali to civilian rule, the US on Friday suspended military aid to the country, scrapping training as well as support of the Mali armed forces.

“Let me say categorically there is no further training or support of Malian armed forces full-stop. We have halted everything until such time as we can clarify the situation,” the US Sahel envoy J. Peter Pham told journalists.

The US regularly provides training to soldiers in Mali, including several of the officers who led the coup. It also offers intelligence support to France’s Barkhane forces, who are fighting jihadist groups in the Sahel region.

Crowds celebrate president’s ouster, junta thanks them

Despite widespread regional and international condemnations, Keïta’s ouster was celebrated on the streets of the capital, Bamako on Friday with jubilant crowds gathering in the central Independence Square.

The demonstrators were mainly supporters of Mali’s opposition coalition, M5-RFP, who had demonstrated since June for Keïta to step down from power.

Although the coalition was not behind Tuesday’s coup d’état, they issued a statement expressing support for the downfall of the government and endorsing the junta’s plan to return the country to civilian rule.

“The M5-RFP welcomes the resignation of President Ibrahima Boubacar Keïta, the dissolution of the National Assembly and the government,” said the statement.

The junta in turn welcomed the coalition’s support at Friday’s rally in Bamako.

“We have come here to thank you, to thank the Malian public for its support. We merely completed the work that you began and we recognise ourselves in your fight,” the junta’s spokesman, Ismaël Wagué, told supporters of the M5 movement,

UN team meets Keita

Earlier Friday, UN human rights officials said they were given access overnight to Keïta and other detainees. The UN peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, provided no details on what was said or on the condition of the captives.

Junta leaders have promised to oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” amount of time. They plan to install a transitional president who may be “either a civilian or a soldier”, the junta’s spokesman told FRANCE 24 in an interview on Thursday.

The junta’s spokesman Wagué told FRANCE 24 that the soldiers who seized power on Tuesday are “in contact with civil society, opposition parties, the majority, everyone, to try to put a transition in place”.

A council headed by a transitional president will be “either a civilian or a soldier”, Wagué said, vowing that the transition would be “as short as possible”.

West African mediation

The military overthrow has dismayed international and regional powers, who fear it could further destabilise the former French colony and West Africa’s entire Sahel region.

The coup is Mali’s second in eight years.

A putsch in 2012 helped hasten a takeover of northern Mali by al Qaeda-linked militants, and al Qaeda and Islamic State group affiliates are active in the north and centre of the country.

France, the EU, the US, the African Union and the UN Security Council have all condemned the latest military takeover and demanded the release of detained leaders.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)