Mali Junta Releases President Before Regional Summit on Coup

Mali’s coup leaders allowed ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to return home in an apparent gesture of goodwill to the region’s presidents meeting to press their demands for a return to civilian rule.

Leaders from the Economic Community of West African States began talks Friday to discuss the nation’s political crisis. The summit follows a mission last week in which the economic bloc failed to have Keita reinstated.

The junta freeing Keita points to a diplomatic effort to try and hold onto power, said Doussouba Konate, a Bamako-based manager at Accountability Lab Mali. “They’ve managed to gain trust by being well-organized,” she said by phone.

One of the coup leaders, Malick Diaw, traveled to neighboring Burkina Faso on Thursday to lobby that nation’s president on the transition process, Ouagadougou-based Radio Omega reported. The junta initially sought to remain in power until 2023, when Keita’s mandate was due to expire, before suggesting a two-year transition; Ecowas has pressed for a return to democratic rule within a year.

Ecowas, which has suspended all trade with Mali, will lift sanctions if it is guaranteed “a quick return to political normalcy through a credible process,” according to an Ecowas mission report published this week. Serving officers shouldn’t be allowed to lead the transitional government and Keita should be free to travel abroad for medical checks, the bloc said.

Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, the acting head of Ecowas, reiterated the bloc’s call for the military to return to their barracks. He also restated Ecowas’s concern that the current instability leaves the country vulnerable to attacks by militants waging an insurgency in West Africa.

“The country is at war, which requires more than ever that the army focus on its task, especially as the enemy is reinforcing with the intention to exploit the power vacuum,” Issoufou said.

Keita, 75, dissolved his government and resigned under pressure from soldiers who detained him hours after they staged a mutiny at an army barracks on the outskirts of Bamako. He was first elected to office in 2013, just over a year after his predecessor, Amadou Toumani Toure, was himself ousted in a coup.

Keita is being guarded by army officers at his home, said a person who spoke to Keita and asked not to be identified because he’s not authorized to comment publicly on the matter.

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