Rebel talks sought; democracy in limbo
BAMAKO, Mali – Mali’s U.S.-trained coup leader said Saturday he is in control of the country, has no fears of a countercoup and wants peace talks with the rebels whose northern rebellion was the trigger that led him to oust a democratically elected president.
Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who appeared exhausted, his voice hoarse, stressed the importance of unity for the West African nation in an interview at Kati garrison outside Bamako, the capital. What started there Wednesday as a mutiny of low-ranking officers and rank-and-file soldiers turned into a full-blown coup d’etat.
“Tuareg people in the north, Arab people, are our brothers. … I want all of them to come to the same table right after this interview; my door is open; we should talk about this process,” Sanogo said.
Sanogo’s ouster Wednesday of President Amadou Toumani Toure just five weeks before he was to step down after presidential elections threatens the cause of democracy in a region prone to coups and jeopardizes Mali’s standing at the heart of the Western-backed fight against Africa’s thriving wing of al-Qaida.
The European Union, the World Bank and the African Development Bank all have suspended aid because of the coup, and the African Union has suspended the country’s membership.
“Right now I’m in control of all the country,” Sanogo, 39, said.
But rebels seeking to create a separate state in northern Mali for the nomadic Tuareg people have taken advantage of the power vacuum to advance to the gates of the strategic northern town of Kidal. The rebels are led by battle-hardened colonels who fought in the army of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi before returning home heavily armed.
Mali’s land borders and airspace remained closed Saturday. The country has been under a curfew since the coup.
Sanogo would not say where Toure is, or even if he knows his whereabouts.
“As a soldier, I have my secrets,” is all he would say.
Sanogo backers have also arrested at least three Cabinet ministers, but the whereabouts of Defense Minister Gen. Sadio Gassama is unknown.
Sanogo says he acted Wednesday to avert a national security crisis because the government was not providing the arms and ammunition needed to fight the rebels, who have killed scores of soldiers.
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