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Embattled junta calls on Tuareg rebels to hold talks


Latest update : 2012-03-27

Mali’s junta appealed late Monday to Tuareg rebels in the country's north to suspend their campaign and hold talks with the new military leadership, which has come under intense pressure both at home and abroad to restore constitutional order.

AFP - Mali's new military rulers launched a fresh appeal late Monday to Tuareg rebels advancing in the north of the country to halt their campaign and hold talks.

The junta, facing mounting domestic and international pressure as the US froze aid and demonstrators protested the coup on the streets of the capital, broadcast its appeal on state television.

ECOWAS to hold talks over Mali crisis

West African leaders of the regional ECOWAS bloc are set to hold talks on the crisis in Mali at a meeting in Ivory Coast on Tuesday, where they are widely expected to officially suspend the embattled country’s membership to the organisation. (REUTERS)

"We call on them already to cease hostilities and to come to the negotiating table as soon as possible," said junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo.

"Everything is negotiable except national territorial integrity and the unity of our country," he added.

Tuareg rebels in the vast north of the country have exploited the disarray caused by last week's coup and pushed on with their fight for independence of what they say is their traditional homeland.

The Tuareg on Monday said the fall of the key town Kidal was "imminent", as they pushed on with their fight for independence.

The junta had already suggested peace talks over the weekend, but to no immediate avail.

The United States meanwhile announced it was following Europe, Canada and other countries in suspending aid to the west African nation.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said aid would be frozen "pending a resolution of the situation on the ground".

A key ally to Mali, the United States has helped it train soldiers to fight growing drug-trafficking and extremism.

The United Nations Security Council joined the chorus of rebuke against the renegade soldiers who overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, demanding the officers return to their barracks.

Inside the country too, patience was wearing thin with the new regime, as a united front of political parties and organisations staged a rally in front of the Bamako stock exchange.

"We demand a return to constitutional order," and "Down with the putschists, long live democracy, long live Mali," read banners held up by the protesters who began their rally by singing the national anthem, some raising their fists.

The demonstration fell on a national holiday celebrating the country's previous coup of March 26, 1991, when Toure led a band of soldiers to end the 23-year dictatorship of Moussa Traore.

Having led the country to its first democratic polls a year later, Toure was considered a hero and was later democratically elected in 2002.

He had been due to step down after serving two terms, following elections scheduled for April 29.

Toure's whereabouts were unknown, however the junta has said he is safe and in good health, without specifying whether he has been detained.

Life returned to normal in the capital Bamako, where shops re-opened and people ventured out after several tense days following the mutiny, during which some soldiers took part in looting.

The junta announced a partial re-opening of the country's borders, mostly to allow the transport of basic goods into the country. They have urged all civil servants and private employees to return to their jobs on Tuesday.

Tunisia's secretary of state Abadallah Triki was evacuated from the country along with 61 other citizens from France, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Senegal, according to the Tunisian government and TAP airline.

Fourteen members of the toppled government, including the prime minister and foreign minister, launched a hunger strike on Sunday at the military barracks where they are being held in a small room, forced to sleep three to a mattress.

The International Crisis Group on Monday urged the international community to act quickly, describing military rule as "a disaster for Mali and for all West Africa".

The think-tank warned that key cities, including fabled Timbuktu, were at risk of falling to the Tuareg in their drive for independence in northern Mali.

Their campaign has forced more than 200,000 people to flee the fighting since mid-January.

The junta has said its coup was sparked by the regime's perceived weakness in the face of the Tuareg rebellion.

Their last uprising was resolved in 2009, however after the recent return of heavily armed and battle-hardened Tuaregs who had fought for Libya's late leader Moamer Kadhafi, a fresh uprising broke out in January.

Their lightning strikes on several northern towns have overwhelmed a relatively weak, ill-equipped army.

On Sunday, the army said it had repelled an attack in Kidal, 1,000 kilometres (around 600 miles) from Bamako.


Date created : 2012-03-27

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