Mali’s deposed president returns home under tight security

International
Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, Goodluck Jonathan

Mediator for the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS and former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, center, speaks with ECOWAS Commission President Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, right, as they meet with representatives of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People at the Ministry of Defense in Bamako, Mali Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. Top West African officials are arriving in Mali’s capital following a coup in the nation this week to meet with the junta leaders and the deposed president in efforts to negotiate a return to civilian rule. (AP Photo)

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Former Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita returned home after being detained for 10 days by the ruling military junta that staged a coup d’etat last week, a family member said Thursday.

Keita was detained by the military on Aug. 18 when a group of military officers arrested him and took him to Kati, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the capital, Bamako. Late that night he resigned as president.

Keita was brought home around 2 a.m. Thursday by the military, according to a family member who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak to the press. New guards were put on duty at the president’s residence, and the junta must approve all visitors, the family member added.

His release to his home under tight military security comes amid negotiations with the 15-nation West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, whose leaders are meeting Friday in a virtual summit to further discuss the crisis in Mali.

The former leader’s safety was discussed during earlier negotiations that were suspended on Monday after failing to reach an agreement on who will lead Mali and how long the transition back to democracy will take.

“We asked them to allow ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to return to his personal residence, where he would be given tight security, but they said he (might) travel abroad and not return to answer questions they may have for him,’’ special envoy and former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan said when describing the negotiations to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, according to a communique issued Wednesday.

Keita’s release could be a signal that Mali’s ruling junta are trying to meet some of the demands by ECOWAS. Mali’s military leaders have asked for ECOWAS to lift sanctions already in place, according to Jonathan.

“We told them that the authority to do such was only in the hands of ECOWAS heads of state,” he said, referring to the upcoming summit on Friday.

The ECOWAS negotiating team met with Keita during their visit to Mali’s capital last week. Keita confirmed that he resigned voluntarily, “adding that he was no longer interested in returning to his former position,” according to the ECOWAS delegation’s statement.

The main demand from ECOWAS, however, is at a standstill. West Africa’s leaders have demanded that Mali’s junta put in place an interim government, headed by a civilian or retired military officer, that would last no longer than one year before democratic elections are held to restore the country to civilian rule.

“The interim government would then organize elections to restore full constitutional order,” Jonathan said in the briefing.

Mali’s junta, calling itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, has proposed staying in power for three years until Mali’s next election until 2023. The junta’s proposed time frame is more than double the time it took to hold a vote after a similar coup in 2012, and would allow the soldiers who overthrew a democratically elected president to remain in power all that time.

African countries and the wider international community have expressed fears that Mali’s upheaval could allow Islamic extremists in the country to extend their reach. Mali has been fighting the extremists with heavy international support for more than seven years, and jihadists have used previous power vacuums in the country to expand their territory.

“About two-thirds of Mali is occupied by terrorists, and it makes common sense to secure the country, rather than pursuing individual interests,” Nigeria’s president said in the statement issued by his office.

On Thursday, Mali’s military said four soldiers were killed and 12 others wounded in an ambush on an anti-poaching unit by insurgents in central Mali. Reinforcements have been dispatched to the site about 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Konna on the road to Douentza, the military said.

West Africa will reach a common position on Mali on Friday, he said.

Right after the coup, ECOWAS leaders said they were considering mobilizing a standby military force to restore civilian rule, but that prospect has become unlikely after thousands of Malians took to the streets of the capital last week to support the junta. The regional group also shut borders, halted financial flows with Mali and threatened further sanctions.

The ECOWAS demand comes amid mounting international pressure on the junta.

The International Organization of Francophonie — representing the world’s French-speaking countries — on Wednesday suspended Mali. The organization will send a high-level delegation to Mali’s capital, Bamako, in the coming days to evaluate the situation, it said in a statement.

The European Union will also be suspending its security training missions in Mali.

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Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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