Mali junta opens talks on power handover


BAMAKO, Sept 6, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Mali’s military junta began talks
with opposition groups on Saturday on its promise to hand power back
to civilians, after mounting pressure from neighbouring countries in
the weeks since it overthrew the nation’s leader.

The West African country has long been plagued by instability, a
simmering jihadist revolt, ethnic violence and endemic corruption,
prompting a clique of rebel soldiers to detain president Ibrahim
Boubacar Keita last month.

They pledged to step down after a transition period, but the putsch
has prompted Mali’s neighbours and former colonial ruler France to
demand a swift transfer of power to civilian rule, with fears the
crisis could impact neighbouring states.

The talks in Bamako are being held under junta chief Assimi Goita
but he was not present Saturday, a military source said.

“Since August 18, we are charting a new history for our country,”
junta number two Malick Diaw told the opening session.

The summit was originally planned for last weekend but was called
off at the last minute after a quarrel between the military and the
June 5 Movement, which spearheaded the protests that led to the
toppling of president Keita.

The opposition coalition of civil and religious leaders has demanded
that the military rulers give it a role in the transition to civilian
rule, but was not invited for the transition talks last Saturday.

It was then included for the rescheduled talks, along with political
parties, former rebels, unions, civil society organisations and media

However, a mostly Tuareg coalition of armed rebel groups known as
the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) was not present on

The National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), as
the junta is known, 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 told AFP.

The CMA, which signed a peace accord with Keita’s government in
2015, said in a statement that it expected “the implementation of the
agreement resulting from the Algiers process with the previous
government to remain in force”.

The 2015 peace 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.

Saturday saw two French soldiers with the anti-jihadist Barkhane
force in Mali killed in Tessalit province north of Kidal when their
armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, the French
presidency said.

The deaths brought to 45 the number of French soldiers who have died
serving in the Sahel region since 2013.

– Closed borders –

The CNSP said members of the Malian diaspora would also have their
say in this weekend’s talks.

One of the key issues will be the length of the transition to civilian rule.

Originally the junta proposed a three-year transition, before
bringing that down to two years.

The June 5 Movement has said it wants a transition period of 18 to 24 months.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
regional bloc, which has imposed sanctions and closed borders to Mali
as part of efforts to press the junta into handing over power quickly,
has called for elections within 12 months.

West African leaders will meet via videoconference on Monday with
the Mali situation at the top of their agenda.

Keita, under house arrest in Bamako, is preparing to leave Mali
after being treated at a hospital this week for a mini-stroke, sources
told AFP.

He may head to the United Arab Emirates for further treatment, they said.