West African Leaders Head to Mali to Press for Coup Reversal

West African leaders headed to Mali to press their demand that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita be reinstated, a call rejected by the junta that’s assumed control of the country.

France and the United Nations, wary of the impact the coup may have on a Western-backed counter-insurgency effort in the country, appealed for calm and urged soldiers who detained Keita on Tuesday to free him.

Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is leading the delegation that will attempt to meet the leaders of the Aug. 18 putsch, said two people familiar with the matter. They asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak to the media.

“We are going to engage in discussions with the leaders of the military junta to share our message and make them understand that our sub-region no longer accepts the forceful takeover of power,” Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, the current head of the Economic Community of West African States, said after a meeting of regional heads of state on Thursday.

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 the capital, Bamako. Previous mediation efforts by Ecowas failed to resolve the impasse between Keita’s government and a popular protest movement that’s demanded he step down.

No Return

Leaders of the protest have held talks with the junta since it seized power and insist that Keita, who’s known as IBK, can’t return to office.

“He cannot be reinstated,” Mountaga Tall, a prominent member of the coalition of civil society groups and opposition parties, known as M5, said by phone from Bamako. “You saw the people dancing and cheering in the streets when IBK resigned. Right now, he’s safer with the soldiers.”

The junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, said it will pick a successor to Keita from its own ranks or from the opposition.

Further instability in Mali could be exploited by Islamist insurgents in the north who have staged increasingly violent attacks in the region despite the presence of a 15,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force.

Keita assumed office in 2013 after winning an election on pledges to restore state authority nationwide, 16 months after his predecessor, Amadou Toumani Toure was ousted. That coup was staged from the same barracks where Tuesday’s mutiny started and organized by junior officers angry about the lack of resources needed to fight Tuareg separatists. The subsequent power vacuum was exploited by al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups who seized control of the north.

A French military intervention pushed back the militants, but some groups later returned and expanded to carry out attacks on civilians and peacekeepers. The insurgency has since spread across the region to countries including Niger and Burkina Faso.

The U.S. and the European Union have echoed the UN Security Council and others’ condemnation of the army takeover. The African Union has suspended Mali’s membership. French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday reiterated the call that Keita be freed.

“We have asked that he be released as soon as possible, and no violence takes place,” Macron told reporters Thursday after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We want stability.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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