Mali Junta, Facing More Sanctions, Begins Work on Transition

Mali’s junta said it’s beginning the process of appointing a transitional government after regional leaders threatened to impose tougher sanctions on the country.

The military officials said late Wednesday they’re establishing an electoral college to vote for an interim president, a day after meeting with leaders of the Economic Community of West African States who have demanded power be handed to a civilian.

“Until we accept their terms, the sanctions will not be lifted,” Ismael Wague, a spokesman for the junta, told reporters in the capital, Bamako, on Wednesday. “We asked to return home and speak to our partners in order to rapidly put in place the committees to manage the transition.”

Mutinous soldiers took power on Aug. 18 after arresting former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and forcing him to resign. Ecowas, as the 15-nation regional bloc is known, has taken a hard line against Mali, shutting its borders and halting financial flows in a bid to show that coups are no longer acceptable on the continent.

No vote can take place until the junta decides whether military officers can take on top leadership roles in the transitional government. Ecowas has insisted on a civilian president and prime minister, pushing against the junta’s proposal that officers also be considered for the top jobs.

“They said that their terms were non-negotiable and that it was up to us to make a decision,” Wague said, relaying the bloc’s stance. “If we insist, they can push through a total embargo -- nothing will enter, nothing will leave, blocking us completely.”

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, the Ecowas chairman, told reporters Tuesday that a move to civilian rule is expected “within days.” That’s after the junta already missed a Sept. 15 deadline to name a civilian leader.

Regional presidents said Tuesday they would accept a transition of a maximum of 18 months, softening their earlier stance that it should last no more than a year. They also agreed to the creation of a vice-presidential role, without explicitly ruling out the position being held by a soldier, in a compromise that could allow the junta to save the post for one of their own.

“The transition vice president shall not, under any circumstances, replace the transition president,” the bloc said in a post-meeting statement, safeguarding against the military regaining control of the country.

Ecowas envoy and former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will travel to Mali in a week to follow up on what progress has been made.

“They gave us a week to reflect and respond to their demands,” Wague said. “In one week if we agree, they will lift the sanctions.”

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