Mali Junta to Step Down to End Sanctions, Battle Rebels

Mali’s military junta agreed to hand over power to a temporary government that will organize elections, paving the way to lift sanctions that threatened to worsen a food crisis in the West African nation.

The Economic Community of West African States will lift the sanctions and may aid the government in battling Touareg rebels that captured cities in the northern part of Mali and declared an independent state on April 6, junta leader Amadou Sanogo said on state-owned television yesterday.

“You have to have political order in Bamako to address” the Touareg rebels, David Zounmenou, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, said in a telephone interview today. “The junta had no choice to resist the pressure from ECOWAS. They are afraid of carrying the historical responsibility of the breaking down of the nation.”

The agreement allows Mali to focus on defeating Touareg rebels who took advantage of the March 22 coup to capture cities in the north and declare a separate state. The junta will hand over the government to Dioncounda Traore, president of the national assembly, who will organize elections.

Touareg Rebels

Soldiers unhappy with resources to halt the rising power of the Touareg rebels overthrew President Amadou Toure’s government on March 22, before scheduled elections on April 29. The Touareg rebels took the name The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the name they use for the north of Mali.

“The military realized they couldn’t survive politically in the medium-term,” Samir Gadio, an emerging markets strategist at Standard Bank Group Ltd., said in a telephone interview today. “The military authorities don’t have the capability to take on the Touareg rebels. There will have to be some kind of political process.”

Since the military coup, the rebels captured the historic city of Timbuktu this week and other key areas. The Touareg rebels began fighting in January. The African Union rejected the request for recognition of a separate state yesterday.

The Touaregs, traditionally nomadic camel herders, have waged battles for autonomy in Mali and neighboring Niger in the five decades since the countries became independent from colonial ruler France. The current uprising is bolstered by Touaregs who returned from Libya after the October death of leader Muammar Qaddafi, according to the United Nations.

Libya Weapons

Weapons and ammunition from Libyan stockpiles, including anti-aircraft artillery and explosives, were smuggled into Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, according to a Jan. 18 United Nations report.

“We will help Mali to recover its integrity. We will do war against the Touaregs rebels if necessary,” Djibril Bassole, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Burkina Faso said yesterday. “Mali’s fight is our fight.”

France is ready to offer logistical support for a possible ECOWAS intervention force in the region, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said today, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. The agreement will allow the return of “constitutional order” to Mali and progress toward a “political solution” for the north.

French Support

France supports “unity and the territorial integrity” of Mali, according to the statement, adding that the MNLA should cancel its “unilateral declaration of independence” and presidential elections should be held as soon as possible.

Traore will have 40 days to organize an election and won’t be eligible to run for president, Sanogo said. Toure and the junta leaders will be given security and amnesty, Sanogo said. The Alliance for Democracy in Mali had chosen Traore as the party’s candidate in the April 29 vote. Toure, who has served two terms, was due to step down.

The blockade of fuel and food by ECOWAS on Africa’s third-largest producer of gold would probably exacerbate the food and fuel crisis in Mali, where 3.5 million people are facing food shortages, U.K.-based aid agency Oxfam said yesterday.

-- With assistance by Franz Wild in Johannesburg and Pauline Bax. Editors: Kim McLaughlin, Shanthy Nambiar.

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