Leaders of the military coup in Mali have reached an agreement with the 15-member regional group, ECOWAS, on restoring civilian power in the embattled nation.
Word of the agreement was made on state television. It was announced that the junta has agreed to the creation of a transitional government led by a consensus prime minister, in exchange for an amnesty for coup leaders and lifting of the economic sanctions that the ECOWAS bloc imposed on Mali. The head of the national assembly is to serve as interim president to prepare elections.
West African states have expressed support for Mali’s efforts to reclaim the north. Tuareg rebels, supported by Islamist fighters, have occupied key cities in northern Mali and on Friday proclaimed an independent state under the name of Azawad.
The African Union quickly dismissed the rebels’ declaration as “null and of no value whatsoever,” as did former colonial power France.
The president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, told VOA that “Mali is one and indivisible.”
ECOWAS said Friday it is preparing a force of up to 3,000 soldiers which could be deployed in Mali to secure a return to constitutional order and halt any further rebel advance.
France offered logistic support, including transport. French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet made the pledge Friday and urged ECOWAS to work toward a long-term political solution for Mali, where Tuareg rebels for decades have fought for an independent state.
In a fast-moving offensive, the rebels, with support of Islamist fighters, seized the northern Mali cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu over a three-day period beginning last Friday. The rebels of The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA, said they would respect borders with other states.
The Islamist militant group, Ansar Dine, fought alongside the rebels. The group has been linked to the al-Qaida branch in northern Africa and imposed Islamic law in some areas.
The heavily armed Tuareg rebels arrived in northern Mali after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, and launched an insurgency in mid-January.
Renegade Malian officers seized power from President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22. The soldiers accused the president of failing to equip the army to fight the rebels.
But regional leaders rejected the move and imposed harsh sanctions on Mali to force coup leaders to restore a civilian government. The country’s main political parties also have rejected a call by military junta leaders for a “national convention” to sort out the country’s political and security problems.