Mali’s military junta began talks with opposition groups Saturday on its promised transition to civilian rule after mounting pressure from neighbours to yield power in the weeks since it overthrew the nation’s leader.
The West African country has long been plagued by chronic instability, a simmering jihadist revolt, ethnic violence, and endemic corruption prompting a clique of rebel colonels to detain president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last month.
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They pledged to step down after an undefined transition period, but the putsch has prompted Mali’s neighbours and former colonial ruler France to demand a swift transfer of power to civilian rule, with fears the crisis could impact neighbouring states.
The talks in Bamako are being held under junta chief Assimi Goita but he was not present Saturday, a military source said.
“Since August 18, we are charting a new history for our country,” junta number two Malick Diaw told the opening session.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc has imposed sanctions and closed borders to Mali as part of efforts to press the junta into handing over power quickly.
Saturday’s summit was originally planned for last weekend but was called off at the last minute after a quarrel between the military and the June 5 Movement, which spearheaded the protests that led to the toppling of president Keita.
The opposition coalition of civil and religious leaders has demanded that the military rulers give it a role in the transition to civilian rule, but was not invited for the transition talks last Saturday.
It was then included for the rescheduled talks on Saturday and Sunday, along with political parties, former rebels, unions, civil society organisations and media representatives.
Parallel talks will take place in regional capitals, led by regional governors, according to the junta.
Members of the Malian diaspora will also have their say, according to a spokesperson for the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), as the junta is known.
One of the key issues will be the length of the transition to civilian rule.
Originally the junta proposed a three-year transition, before bringing that down to two years.
The June 5 Movement has said it wants a transition period of 18-24 months.
West African leaders, who have called for elections within 12 months, will meet via videoconference on Monday with the Mali situation at the top of their agenda. (AFP)