Coup: Jonathan heads West African leaders’ team to Mali as UN meets with deposed president

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Former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan is at the head of other West African leaders to coup-torn Mali today in fresh attempt for solution to the political crisis in the West African country.

Mali’s elected President, Ibrahim Keita, was overthrown on Tuesday, August 18 by mutinying soldiers, who took him, and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse, as well as other senior officials into custody.

The coup sent shockwaves around West Africa, sparking fears that one of the region’s most volatile states, and a frontline in the fight against jihadism, could collapse.

Earlier on Tuesday before the coup, Jonathan while briefing President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Villa said Mali’s main opposition group, M5, was adamant on its call for the resignation of Keita.

Keita, who later appeared in a state television broadcast on Wednesday, declared the dissolution of the government and national assembly and said he had no choice but to resign with immediate effect.

“If it pleased certain elements of our military to decide this should end with their intervention, do I really have a choice? (I must) submit to it, because I don’t want any bloodshed,” the 75-year-old said.

Diplomatic sources said the new ECOWAS delegation, led by Jonathan, is expected to arrive in Bamako today (Saturday) with plans “to negotiate the immediate release of Keita and to also ensure the restoration of constitutional government.”

Jonathan, who is ECOWAS Special Envoy to Mali, alongside 14 other leaders in the region, will meet with the junta leaders, including Assimi Goita who had declared himself the head.

Reacting to the request for a meeting with the leaders, a junta official told AFP: “We will receive the ECOWAS delegation with pleasure… it is important to talk to our brothers.”

The United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, amongst others, had since condemned the coup.

COWAS had on Thursday announced that it would dispatch a high-level delegation “to ensure the immediate return of constitutional order.”

It also demanded that Keita be restored as president and warned the junta that it bore “responsibility for the safety and security” of the detainees.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said yesterday that it had gained access to ousted Keita while rebel troops said they had released two other detained leaders, retaining 17.

The developments followed mounting international pressure on the new junta.

“Last night, a team from UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) #HumanRights went to #Kati in the framework of its mandate to protect human rights and was able to gain access to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and other detainees,” the UN peacekeeping mission said.

Those detained, according to various sources, include defence minister Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele; security minister M’Bemba Moussa Keita; and the president of the national assembly, Moussa Timbine.

Others are army chief of staff, General Abdoulaye Coulibaly; the president’s personal chief of staff, General Oumar Dao; air force chief, General Souleymane Doucoure and the head of the national guard, Ouahoun Kone.

Meanwhile, opposition supporters flooded Bamako’s central square yesterday to celebrate Keita’s overthrow.

Thousands gathered in the capital’s Independence Square, the birthplace of a month-long protest, many of them draped in Mali’s national flag and blasting vuvuzela horns.

They rallied three days after mutinying troops seized the country’s unpopular 75-year-old president, forced him to announce his resignation and unveiled a junta that would rule until a “transitional president” takes over.

“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, Ismael Wague, told the crowd.

Meanwhile, the United States yesterday suspended military aid to Mali.

There will be “no further training or support of the Mali armed forces — we have halted everything until we can clarify the situation,” the US special envoy for the Sahel, J. Peter Pham, told reporters.

“It’s not clear which forces are involved in the mutiny, who is involved specifically, where loyalties lie,” he said.

Pham said the US government, which is particularly concerned about Islamist jihadists carrying out attacks in the country, was in contact with the junta, which calls itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People.

“These contacts are operational. They do not imply recognition but acknowledgment that these people are to a certain degree in control of certain things,” Pham said.

The takeover – Pham avoided the term “coup” – “is certainly not going to help,” he said, as the United States and other countries work together with the Malian military to combat Al Qaeda and Islamic State-linked groups conducting attacks in the region.

Washington currently provides surveillance and logistical support for French troops in the country conducting operations against the extremists.

He reiterated the US demand that Keita be released, noting his age and poor health.

“He is the legitimately elected head of state,” Pham said.

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