Mali’s military junta began talks with opposition groups on Saturday on its promise to hand power back to civilian rule, as an opposition group protests against the process, after mounting pressure in recent weeks to yield power.
The military government leaders pledged to step down after an undefined transition period, but the putsch prompted Mali’s neighbours and former colonial ruler France too demand a swift transfer of power to civilian rule, with fears the crisis could affect other states in the region.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc, which has imposed sanctions and closed borders to Mali to put pressure on the junta, called for elections within 12 months.
The talks in Bamako on Saturday were to be held under the military government chief, Assimi Goita, but he was not present, a military source stated.
The summit was planned for last weekend but was called off at the last minute after a quarrel between the military and the June 5 movement. The M5-RFP voiced enthusiastic support for the coup but sharply criticised the military government last week after it was not invited to preliminary consultations about the transition.
A mostly Tuareg coalition of armed rebel groups known as the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) was not present on Saturday.
The National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), said parallel talks were taking place in regional capitals, led by regional governors. But in Kidal, a northeastern city controlled by the CMA, “consultations were postponed for lack of compromise between the CNSP and the CMA,” an administrative official said.
The CMA, which signed a peace accord with Keïta’s government in 2015, said it expected that agreement to remain in force. The deal was meant to disarm rebel groups and integrate them into the national army, but its implementation has dragged on for years despite international pressure.
Military to civilian rule
Mali’s junta has faced a reality check with regional and international powers calling for a quick return to civilian rule and local politicians and teachers’ unions criticising the junta’s handling of the transition process so far.
Moreover, influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, a key player in the mass opposition protests that led to Keita’s removal, has insisted that the military government does not have “carte blanche”.
Mr Keïta won a second term in elections in 2018, but there has been anger over corruption, the mismanagement of the economy and a dispute over legislative elections. It has prompted several large protests in recent months.
The ousted president Keïta, who has been under house arrest in Bamako, flew out of the country on Saturday evening, the junta, family sources and contacts at the airport said. On Thursday, he left a hospital in Bamako after spending two days in the hospital following a mini-stroke.
There has also been anger among troops about pay and over a continuing conflict with terrorists.
The security situation
At least 10 Malian soldiers were killed in an overnight ambush in a central region near the Mauritanian border where armed groups are rampant, security and local sources said on Friday.
The latest attack was the third time Malian security forces suffered heavy losses since the military took power in a coup on August 18.
In contrast, two French soldiers with the Barkhane force in Mali were killed and a third wounded in Tessalit province north of Kidal, when their armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. The deaths brought to 45 the number of French soldiers who have died serving in the Sahel region since 2013.