West African Grouping Calls Summit on Mali, Guinea-Bissau
Tensions eased in post-coup Mali on Friday after the release of 22 political prisoners and as the regional grouping ECOWAS announced a summit on the crisis next week.
Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States will meet in Abidjan on Thursday when they will also address the crisis in Guinea-Bissau, whose government was also overthrown in a military coup, the Ivorian presidency of the bloc said Friday.
In Mali, interim prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra set about forming his interim government after soldiers agreed to cede power to civilians in the Saharan nation.
And in comments on state television he said that while he was ready for talks with the armed groups who have seized control of the country's north, he would not let them hold the country to ransom.
"Yes, we will negotiate because we hate war. We will negotiate because we are not afraid to negotiate," he said.
But not with "a knife to the throat, accepting a fait accompli."
Ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, who formally resigned after being overthrown by the military on March 22, left the country to seek refuge in Senegal.
It was not immediately known whether Toure, 63, would stay in Senegal indefinitely.
A military source in Bamako had earlier said on condition of anonymity that Toure had departed "with the agreement of Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo," the coup leader, after soldiers posted at the airport earlier refused to let him leave.
The military source said troops had tried to oppose the former president's departure by firing in the air, sparking mass panic.
Toure's departure from Mali and the release of his allies who were rounded up by the junta helped ease tensions in Bamako where some feared that soldiers were loath to give up power as arrests continued despite the commitment to a return to civilian rule.
The wave of detentions took place shortly after Diarra, a former NASA astrophysicist and current head of Microsoft Africa, was appointed. He is expected to announce the makeup of his transition government in the coming days.
Television footage had showed assault rifles and ammunition clips as Colonel Diamou Keita, the head of the gendarmerie, said they had arrested 11 civilians and 11 soldiers.
Also Friday, former colonial power France called on the military to "respect freedoms, especially that of the press, by withdrawing from the radio-television office."
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero hailed the release of political prisoners as "good news," adding: "This type of arbitrary arrest, which maintains a climate of pressure, should not be repeated."
Gendarmerie chief Keita said late Thursday that those released could still be recalled by the authorities for questioning. He did not elaborate.
Renegade soldiers said they acted against the government's inability to stop a Tuareg rebellion in the north. Since then however, the Tuaregs and Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamists have conquered the entire northern part of the country.
Amid a barrage of international condemnation, the junta handed power back to civilian authority but the coup leaders have continued to flex their muscles.
ECOWAS has also condemned last week's coup in Guinea-Bissau and the junta's subsequent decision to appoint a failed presidential hopeful to lead a two-year transition to democracy.
Malian deputies appealed Thursday to the armed movements controlling the north of the country to lay down their arms and withdraw immediately from all the occupied zones.
An African rights body warned Thursday that if Mali did not receive assistance to win back its north from Islamists and other rebels, it could become the "Afghanistan of Africa."
By AFP, 21/04/2012