Mali’s Colonel Assimi Goita takes control of country once again, stripping President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane of their duties.

In this file photo taken on August 19, 2020 Colonel Assimi Goita speaks to the press at the Malian Ministry of Defence in Bamako, Mali.
In this file photo taken on August 19, 2020 Colonel Assimi Goita speaks to the press at the Malian Ministry of Defence in Bamako, Mali. (AFP)

Mali’s transitional president and prime minister have remained detained after being taken by force to the military headquarters hours after a government reshuffle left out two members of the junta that had seized power in a coup nine months ago.

In a statement read on public TV, strongman Assimi Goita said President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane had been stripped of their duties for seeking to "sabotage" the transition, which would "proceed as normally, and the scheduled elections will be held in 2022."

"The vice president of the transition saw himself obligated to act to preserve the transitional charter and defend the republic," the statement said.

Army officers upset with a government reshuffle have detained the pair, who were appointed in September under international pressure with the task of steering Mali back to full civilian rule within 18 months.

The African Union, the UN mission in Mali, the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS and other members of the international community called for their immediate release.

President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were taken to the Kati military headquarters along with others late Monday.

The garrison town sits about 15 km (nine miles) from the capital and is the former stronghold of the junta.

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International condemnation

In a strongly worded statement, the international bodies that make up the local transition monitoring committee condemned what they called an “attempted coup” and stressed that “the military elements detaining them will be held personally responsible for their security.”

The group reaffirmed their support for the transitional authorities, calling for Mali’s political transition to continue on its course and conclude within the established timeframe.

“The international community rejects in advance any act imposed by coercion, including forced resignations,” the statement said. 

“They emphasise that the ill-considered action taken today carries the risk of weakening the mobilisation of the international community in support of Mali.”

A delegation from ECOWAS will visit Bamako on Tuesday, the joint statement said.

The military hasn't yet issued a statement about its actions. Bamako remained calm into Tuesday. 

Mali state TV only rebroadcast the official statement announcing the new government members.

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Mounting divisions within government

The arrests came just an hour or so after a new government Cabinet was announced. 

Notably it didn't include Interior Security Minister Modibo Kone or Defence Minister Sadio Camara, both junta supporters. 

No reason was given for their exclusion, but the move suggested mounting divisions within the transitional government.

Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said that while the military’s intentions weren't immediately apparent, it's likely the military hopes that the president and prime minister will reverse their decision and amend Cabinet appointments.

“The decision to reshuffle the Cabinet was taken in light of mounting criticism at the slow pace of reform and growing anger surrounding the prominent role given to the army,” in the prime minister’s first Cabinet, he said. 

“Although the officers were in turn replaced by other members of the military, both Kone and Camara are widely viewed as pillars of the August 2020 coup.”

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Threat of militant groups

The developments raise new alarm about whether the transitional government will be able to move ahead freely as promised with plans to organise new democratic elections by next February in Mali, where the UN is spending $1.2 billion a year on a peacekeeping mission.

The two leaders were sworn in last September after the ruling military junta, under growing international pressure, agreed to hand over power to a civilian transitional government.

The junta had grabbed power a month earlier after mutinous soldiers encircled the home of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and fired shots into the air. 

He later resigned on national TV under duress, saying he didn't want blood to be shed in order for him to stay in office.

The soldiers then went on state TV calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People and promising a swift return to civilian rule. 

However, Monday’s developments appeared to throw that promise into question.

There has been widespread concern that the upheaval in Mali over the past year has further set back efforts to contain militants linked to Al Qaeda and Daesh terror group.

Militants took control of major towns in northern Mali after the 2012 coup. 

Only a 2013 military intervention led by former colonial power France pushed militants out of those towns. 

France and a UN force have continued to battle the militants, who operate in rural areas and regularly attack roads and cities.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies