AU envoys 'reassured' by new Mauritanian leader

African Union envoys who met Mauritania’s new military strongman said on Wednesday they were reassured by the country’s junta leaders, and urged them to follow a plan to hold democratic elections in less than two years.

Pointedly, they said nothing about restoring to power exiled president Maaya Sid’Ahmed Ould Taya, who was overthrown in a bloodless coup on August 3.

“We were reassured because there is a consensus on the reasons, even the necessity, for change,” said Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Oluyemi Adeniji, who led the AU delegation.

Taya, who had ruled since a 1984 coup, was widely unpopular and many Mauritanians welcomed his ouster. On Tuesday, he left Niger for the West African nation of Gambia, according to members of his entourage.

“The impression that we’ve had since our arrival is that there is peace everywhere,” Adeniji told reporters. “All the people we met with indicated they agreed with the change.
And we think it would be simpler to take the transitional process toward democracy.”

The AU delegation arrived on Tuesday in Nouakchott and met junta leader Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall for more than two hours at the presidential palace.

Vall has pledged to hold elections in two years and said no member of his 17-man junta will stand in the ballot.

“The AU position that we transmitted to President Ely Ould Mohamed Vall is to strictly and transparently follow the transitional programme announced,” Adeniji said, adding that Vall has expressed his intention to follow through on the programme “in the shortest time possible”.

The 53-nation AU condemned the putsch and suspended Mauritania’s membership in the organisation.

Adeniji said the suspension will likely be lifted when democratic elections are held.

The AU delegation, which left on Wednesday, also met leaders of political parties, trade unions, businessmen, rights groups, aid agencies and journalists.

Earlier this week, Taya called on the AU to keep up its pressure on the coup leaders, and appealed to loyalist soldiers to return him to power.

Taya was strongly criticised by many Mauritanians for allying his overwhelmingly Muslim nation with the United States in the war on terror and opening full diplomatic relations with Israel six years ago, becoming one of only three Arab League nations to do so.

Taya cracked down ruthlessly on his opponents, jailing scores after surviving three alleged coup attempts, one of which sparked several days of fighting in the capital in 2003.

Taya branded his opponents “terrorists” and his harsh crackdown is believed to have contributed to bringing on the coup. But a power struggle over recently discovered offshore oil reserves may also have played a role. The desert nation is expected to begin pumping crude for the first time in early 2006.—Sapa-AP

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