Mali's ex-junta clamps down on state broadcaster

Troops loyal to Mali’s former junta fired in the air as they forced staff to evacuate the state’s broadcaster’s office on Wednesday, a day after the building was targeted in a failed counter-coup that left 22 dead.

Gunfire erupted at the ORTM building late on Monday, in what proved to be an assault launched by soldiers loyal ex-president Amadou Toumani Toure, who was toppled in a March 22 putsch.

The ex-junta seized the ORTM building the night they toppled Toure and have occupied it since.

An employee of the radio and television broadcaster said ex-junta forces appeared nervous as they forced staff to leave and ordered them to “return home”, without explaining the reasons for the evacuation.

An armoured car fired in the air nearby and the incident sparked panic locally with banks closing and civil servants in a number of ministries fleeing their offices.

Bamako was already on edge after the failed counter-coup bid, which ex-junta leader Amadou Haya Sanogo blamed on “foreign elements backed by dark forces from inside the country”.

In an interview broadcast on Tuesday, he assured that the situation was “under control” and that latest violence was the result of “an internal matter that was being managed”.

Returning calm
Hospital officials said at least 22 people had been killed in fighting between the ex-junta and Toure’s loyalists, who are part of the presidential guard.

Aside from the attack on the ORTM building, the loyalists of the ousted regime struck at the airport and at Kati, the garrison town near the capital that is the junta’s headquarters but calm had returned to most areas by Wednesday morning.

The objective of the assault on the ex-junta was “the assassination of military chiefs and particularly” Sanogo, Ibrahim Dahirou Dembele, the junta’s army chief of staff, told ORTM.

The UN Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, condemned the latest violence and said “it could only serve to complicate an already difficult transition”.

Facing pressure from neighbouring states who feared a dramatic rebel advance across Mali’s desert north, the junta agreed to stand down following an April 6 deal negotiated by West African mediators.

A new interim president and prime minister have been sworn in but even though the junta is technically no longer in power it has remained a political player that has made its influence felt.

Sanogo on Saturday nixed a demand from the West African bloc Ecowas for elections in Mali within 12 months.

He also has rejected a plan to send foreign troops into northern Mali, captured by a loose coalition of Tuareg and Islamist rebels following the March 22 coup.

Training ground
But West African leaders fear that under rebel hands northern Mali could become a haven and training ground for extremists planning attacks around the region.

The top leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb reportedly headed to northern Mali shortly government troops were chased out.

A delegation from ex-junta on Wednesday met in Burkina Faso’s with President Blaise Compaore, the Ecowas mediator for Mali, for talks that were expected to touch on the precarious situation in the north.

A variety of rebel groups are operating in northern Mali, an area roughly the size of France, including Tuareg nationalists and Islamists who have sought to impose Sharia law in areas under their control.

One group operating in the region, an al-Qaeda splinter called the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, on Wednesday demanded a total of $59-million in exchange for two European women aid workers and seven Algerian diplomats taken hostage.

The MUJAO spokesperson Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui gave the figures in reply to a written question.

The two women, an Italian and a Spaniard, were kidnapped in October along with a Spanish man while working in a camp for Western Sahara refugees in Tindouf in western Algeria.

The Algerians were abducted on April 5 in Gao, northeast Mali, amid the rebel offensive.—AFP

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