European Union leaders have condemned the “kidnapping” of Mali’s civilian leadership and warned of potential sanctions against those responsible. It follows the United Nations’ mission in Mali calling for the “immediate and unconditional” release of the country’s president and prime minister, who were detained by military officers after a cabinet reshuffle.
The European Council’s president, Charles Michel, told reporters after a summit of the 27 EU leaders: “What happened was grave and serious and we are ready to consider necessary measures.”
A statement added that the bloc was “ready to consider targeted measures against political and military leaders who obstruct the Malian transition”.
President Bah Ndaw, the prime minister, Moctar Ouane, and the defence minister, Souleymane Doucoure, were seized on Monday and taken to a military base in Kati outside the capital Bamako, according to diplomatic and government sources.
On Twitter, the UN mission in Mali, known as Minusma, said: “We are following events closely and remain committed to supporting the Transition. We call for calm and demand the immediate and unconditional release of the President and prime minister. Those who are holding them will be held accountable. They must ensure the wellbeing of those detained.”
The US embassy in Bamako, meanwhile, said it had received “reports of increased military activity in Bamako”. It urged Americans in Bamako to limit their movements.
The arrests bring further uncertainty to the west African country after a military coup in August overthrew then president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. They may exacerbate instability in the country, where violent Islamist groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State control large areas of the desert north.
Ndaw and Ouane had been tasked with overseeing an 18-month transition back to civilian rule after the takeover, but they appear to have moved against the military’s control over a number of key positions.
“The sacking of the pillars of the coup was an enormous misjudgement,” a senior former Malian government official told Reuters. “The actions are probably aimed at getting them back in their jobs.”
The military’s ultimate goal was not immediately clear. One military official in Kati said this was not an arrest. “What they have done is not good,” the source said, referring to the cabinet reshuffle. “We are letting them know, decisions will be made.”
But Kati’s military base is notorious for ending the rule of Malian leaders. Last August, the military took Keita to Kati and forced him to resign. A mutiny there helped topple his predecessor Amadou Toumani Touré in 2012.
Mali has been in turmoil ever since. Touré’s departure triggered an ethnic Tuareg rebellion to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, which was hijacked by al-Qaida-linked jihadists.
French forces beat the insurgents back in 2013 but they have since regrouped and carry out regular attacks on the army and civilians. They have exported their methods to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger where attacks have skyrocketed since 2017.
There had appeared to be some cause for optimism. The transitional government said last month that it would hold legislative and presidential elections in February 2022 to restore a democratic government.
J Peter Pham, former US special envoy for the Sahel, now with the Atlantic Council, told Reuters: “It is regrettable, but not surprising: the arrangement agreed to after the coup last year was not perfect, but it was a compromise agreed to by all the major Malian and international stakeholders.”