Detained Malian leaders freed

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Mali’s ousted interim leaders are free after they were detained by the army and resigned, a military representative said, as another questioned the feasibility of elections promised for next year.

Interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were arrested and taken to a military base outside the capital on Monday, jeopardising an 18-month transition back to democracy after a coup last August.

International powers including the US and military ally France, worried about worsening security in Mali and its neighbours, condemned the arrests and threatened sanctions.

The men resigned while in detention.

The arrests were orchestrated by Vice President Assimi Goita, who led last year’s coup overthrowing former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

“They resigned, their release was scheduled, we have nothing against them,” said Goita aide Baba Cissé.

Ndaw and Ouane’s whereabouts will be kept secret to protect them, Cissé told Reuters.

Goita ordered the arrests after a cabinet reshuffle which saw the fellow coup leaders sacked.

He promised next year’s elections will go ahead. On Thursday his legal advisor Youssouf Coulibaly suggested this commitment was not set in stone.

“These 18 months are sacred and we will respect them. At the end of it, people will be able to say if they want to continue the transition, if they wish to go to the elections, or if they wish to continue the transition with new leaders,” he told Reuters.

This decision will be taken following consultations, he said.

He added Goita was currently in charge, but negotiations were ongoing about appointment of a new government.

Mali’s influential M5-RFP political coalition, which led anti-government protests ahead of last year’s coup, opposed the leadership of Ndaw and Ouane, adding it would oppose Goita’s appointment as president.

The leadership question could exacerbate a security crisis in Mali’s desert north, where militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State capitalise on political uncertainty.

The militants use Mali as a base to launch attacks across the Sahel. The arid region south of the Sahara saw an eight-fold increase in deadly attacks from 2015 to 2020. Over five million people are displaced.

The EU military mission in Mali (EUTM), which briefly suspended its training programme in 2020 following the August coup, said Malian soldiers will continue to receive training.

“We are following the situation closely and not taking abrupt decisions,” Lieutenant-Colonel Pardo, the mission’s spokesman, told Reuters.