May 25, 2013
Mali junta backs down as rebels seize Timbuktu
Mali's junta yielded to the threat of sanctions on Sunday, pledging to start handing power back to civilians before a midnight deadline, while in the north, separatist rebels seized the ancient trading post of Timbuktu.
Amadou Sanogo, an army captain who led a March 21 coup, pledged to reinstate the constitution and all state institutions before transferring power back to civilians via elections. His promise followed last week's threat by West African regional bloc ECOWAS to impose sanctions, including the potentially crippling closure of borders around the land-locked state.
There was no immediate reaction from ECOWAS. However, the steps were two measures outlined earlier by an envoy of Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, the crisis mediator, as essential pre-conditions for Mali to avoid sanctions.
West African leaders are due to meet in Dakar on Monday, and will discuss Mali on the sidelines of the swearing in of Senegal's new president, Macky Sall, Senegal's APS news agency said.
Disgruntled Malian soldiers had seized power with the aim of stepping up the battle against the northern rebels. But the coup has backfired, emboldening the rebellion's Tuareg leaders to seize new ground in its quest for a northern homeland. On Sunday they took their latest target, Timbuktu, after government forces fled.
Sanogo read a statement at a barracks near the capital Bamako on Sunday ceding to ECOWAS demands. "We are making the solemn commitment to re-establish, from today, the Malian constitution of February 25, 1992 and the institutions of the republic," he said.
Sanogo, a hitherto obscure U.S.-trained captain, said the junta had agreed to consult with local political forces to set up a transition body "with the aim of organizing peaceful, free, open and democratic elections in which we will not take part".
No details were given on a timeframe or the fate of ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure, who remains in hiding.
Burkina Foreign Minister Djibril Bassolet told Reuters earlier by telephone that the steps were key to avoiding the sanctions being imposed at midnight.
"We want to be careful, we have to go gradually," Bassolet said, warning of the risk of a power vacuum. He was unreachable after the junta announcement.