Mali’s military has released former interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, three days after detaining them and stripping them of their powers.
The detention of the pair on Monday took place hours after a cabinet reshuffle in which two army officers lost their posts, the latest political crisis to hit the country nine months after the military overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
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An aide to interim Vice President Assimi Goita, who led the August 2020 coup, said on Wednesday that Ndaw and Ouane had resigned.
“The interim president and prime minister were released overnight around 1:30am (01:30 GMT),” a military official told AFP news agency on Thursday. “We were true to our word,” he added, on condition of anonymity. Family members also confirmed to news agencies that the pair had been released.
Ndaw and Ouane, along with Defence Minister Souleymane Doucoure, were being held at a military base in Kati, outside Bamako. It was not immediately clear if Doucore had also been released.
The United Nations Security Council, staging an emergency meeting on Wednesday at the request of former colonial power France and others, demanded “the safe, immediate and unconditional release” of all officials and urged a restoration of the civilian-led transition.
But the 15-member body did not discuss imposing sanctions and refrained from calling the detentions a coup.
In contrast, French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has committed more than 5,000 troops to fighting armed groups in the Sahel, said the twin arrests were a “coup d’etat in an unacceptable coup d’etat”.
France, the United States and the regional bloc ECOWAS have also warned of sanctions, and US aid to the Malian armed forces has been suspended.
Ndaw, a former soldier, and Ouane were sworn in September last year after the August coup-makers – faced with the threat of regional sanctions – agreed to hand over power to a transitional government.
The caretaker administration was tasked with overseeing an 18-month transition back to civilian rule. Two others who were instrumental in the coup – Sadio Camara and Colonel Modibo Kone – were given the defence and security portfolios, respectively.
Camara and Kone were replaced in Monday’s cabinet reshuffle, although the military held onto other strategic portfolios it previously controlled.
No reason was given for Camara and Kone’s exclusion, but the cabinet shake-up came in the face of growing criticism of the interim government, with civil society groups questioning whether the military-dominated government has the will, or the ability to push through reforms and hold elections next year.
On Tuesday, Goita said Ndaw and Ouane had violated the transitional charter by failing to consult him about the new cabinet and promised that elections planned for next year at the end of the transitional period would go ahead.
Mali has been in turmoil since 2012 when a revolt began in the country’s north, before spreading to the centre and then into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso. The conflict between armed groups and government forces has killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Mali is one of the poorest in the world, and its armed forces suffer from lack of equipment and training. They are being supported by UN and French troops, as well as a combined force from four other Sahel nations.