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Mali’s Military Junta Open Talks On Transition To Civilian Rule

5 September 2020. The Guardian, UK: Mali’s military junta began talks with opposition groups on Saturday on its promise to hand power back to civilians, after mounting pressure from neighbouring countries in the weeks since it overthrew the nation’s leader.

The West African country has long been plagued by instability, a simmering jihadist revolt, ethnic violence and endemic corruption, prompting a clique of rebel soldiers to detain the president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, last month.

Keïta flew out of the country Saturday evening for further medical treatment in the United Arab Emirates, after spending two days in hospital in Mali following a mini-stroke.

Mali’s new military rulers have pledged to step down after a transition period, but they are under pressure from the country’s neighbours and former colonial ruler, France, for a swift transition to civilian rule.

The talks in Bamako are being held under junta chief Assimi Goïta but he was not present on Saturday, a military source said. “Since 18 August, we are charting a new history for our country,” junta number two Malick Diaw told the opening session.

The summit was planned for last weekend but was called off at the last minute after a quarrel between the military and the June 5 movement. The June 5 movement spearheaded the protests that led to the toppling of president Keïta.

The opposition coalition of civil and religious leaders demanded military rulers give it a role in the transition to civilian rule, but it was not invited for the transition talks on 29 August. It was included in the rescheduled talks, along with political parties, former rebels, unions, civil society organisations and media representatives.

A mostly Tuareg coalition of armed rebel groups known as the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) was not present on Saturday.

The National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), as the junta is known, said parallel talks were taking place in regional capitals, led by regional governors. But in Kidal, a northeastern city controlled by the CMA, “consultations were postponed for lack of compromise between the CNSP and the CMA,” an administrative official told AFP.

The CMA, which signed a peace accord with Keïta’s government in 2015, said it expected that agreement to remain in force. The deal was meant to disarm rebel groups and integrate them into the national army, but its implementation has dragged on for years despite international pressure.

Meanwhile, two French soldiers with the anti-jihadist Barkhane force in Mali were killed and a third wounded in Tessalit province north of Kidal, when their armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, the French presidency said. The deaths brought to 45 the number of French soldiers who have died serving in the Sahel region since 2013.

One of the key issues in the talks is the length of the transition to civilian rule. The junta originally proposed a three-year transition, before bringing it down to two years. The June 5 movement said it wants a transition period of 18-24 months. The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc, which has imposed sanctions and closed borders to Mali to put pressure on the junta, called for elections within 12 months.

West African leaders will meet via videoconference on Monday with the situation in Mali at the top of their agenda.

The ousted president Keïta, who has been under house arrest in Bamako, flew out of the country on Saturday evening, the junta, family sources and contacts at the airport said. On Thursday, he left a hospital in Bamako after a two-day stay during which he was treated for a mini-stroke.

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