The United Nations mission in Mali has called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of the country’s president and prime minister, who were detained by the military after a cabinet reshuffle.
President Bah Ndaw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Defense Minister Souleymane Doucoure were all seized on Monday and taken to a military base in Kati outside the capital Bamako, according to diplomatic and government sources.
On Twitter, the UN mission in Mali, known as Minusma, said: “We are monitoring events closely and remain committed to supporting the transition. We call for calm and demand the immediate and unconditional release of the President and the Prime Minister. Those who hold them will be held accountable. They must ensure the well-being of those detained. “
The US embassy in Bamako, meanwhile, said it had received “reports of increased military activity in Bamako”. He urged Americans in Bamako to limit their movements.
The arrests bring new uncertainty to the West African country after a military coup in August toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. They can exacerbate instability in this West African country where violent Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State control large areas of the northern desert.
Ndaw and Ouane had been tasked with overseeing an 18-month transition to civilian rule after the takeover, but they appear to have moved against the military’s control over a number of key positions.
“The dismissal of the pillars of the coup was a huge error in judgment,” a former senior Malian government official told Reuters. “The actions are probably aimed at getting them back to work.”
The army’s ultimate goal was not immediately clear. A military official in Kati said it was not an arrest. “What they have done is not good,” the source said, referring to the cabinet reshuffle. “We let them know, decisions will be made.”
But the Kati military base is known to have ended the reign of the Malian rulers. Last August, the military took President Keita to Kati and forced him to resign. A mutiny helped overthrow his predecessor Amadou Toumani Touré in 2012.
Mali has since been in turmoil. Touré’s departure sparked an ethnic Tuareg rebellion to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, which was hijacked by jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda.
French forces defeated the insurgents in 2013, but they have since regrouped and carried out regular attacks against the army and civilians. They exported their methods to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger where attacks have exploded since 2017.
There seems to be a reason for optimism. The transitional government said last month it would hold legislative and presidential elections in February 2022 to restore democratic government.
J. Peter Pham, former US special envoy for the Sahel, now at the Atlantic Council, told Reuters: “It is regrettable, but not surprising: the arrangement reached after the coup of the year last was not perfect, but it was an agreed compromise. à by all the main Malian and international players.