Mali’s military junta began talks with opposition groups on Saturday on its promise to hand power back to civilians, after mounting pressure from neighbouring countries in the weeks since it overthrew the nation’s leader.
The West African country has long been plagued by instability, a simmering jihadist revolt, ethnic violence and endemic corruption, prompting a clique of rebel soldiers to detain president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last month.
They pledged to step down after a 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.
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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 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.
t was then included for the rescheduled talks, along with political parties, former rebels, unions, civil society organisations and media representatives.
However, a mostly Tuareg coalition of armed rebel groups known as the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) was not present on Saturday.
The National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), as the junta is known, said parallel talks were taking place in regional capitals, led by regional governors.
But in Kidal, a northeastern city controlled by the CMA, “consultations were postponed for lack of compromise between the CNSP and the CMA,” an administrative official told AFP.
The CMA, which signed a peace accord with Keita’s government in 2015, said in a statement that it expected “the implementation of the agreement resulting from the Algiers process with the previous government to remain in force”.
The 2015 peace deal was meant to disarm rebel groups and integrate them into the national army, but its implementation has dragged on for years despite international pressure.
Saturday saw two French soldiers with the anti-jihadist Barkhane force in Mali killed in Tessalit province north of Kidal when their armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, the French presidency said.
The deaths brought to 45 the number of French soldiers who have died serving in the Sahel region since 2013.