Mali post-coup leader threatens 'total war' on rebelsBy Stephane Barbier
4/13/2012 1:00:00 AM -
BAMAKO (AFP) - An interim president took over from Mali's coup leaders Thursday, threatening "total war" against Tuareg and Islamist rebels who seized half the country after the putsch three weeks ago.
Dioncounda Traore, the former parliament speaker, took the oath of office in the west African nation at a ceremony attended by, among others, junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who had grabbed power in the March 22 coup.
Mali's new interim leader -- a 70-year-old mathematician turned politician who speaks six languages -- was expected to soon name a prime minister, and to organise elections within 40 days under the power transfer.
The mutineers justified their coup by accusing the former government of mishandling the northern rebellion -- but their coup allowed the Tuareg and Islamist militants to take over a vast area in the desert north.
Amid the disarray in the capital, they captured an area the size of France, including the ancient town of Timbuktu, bringing lawlessness to an area already gripped by drought and acute food shortages.
Traore said he was "aware of being the president of a country at war" and warned that the rebels must "stop the... pillaging, the rapes. They must leave the cities that they have occupied."
If they did not, he said, "we will not hesitate to wage a total and relentless war," warned the new leader.
The Group of Eight nations voiced "deep concern for the deteriorating situation in northern Mali and the implications the current crisis has for the wider Sahel region, including the impending humanitarian crisis."
The G8 foreign ministers meeting in Washington said they had "reinforced their support for the territorial integrity of Mali... and urged all parties to ceasefire and engage in political talks."
Regional foreign and defence ministers met in Ivory Coast Thursday to mull possible military intervention in northern Mali, as fears rose that the rebel-held region could become a haven for radical Islamists.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which mediated the Mali power transfer, has raised the prospect of sending a force of up to 3,000 men to try to reclaim the region.
The African Union applauded the handover of power to Traore.
Ramtane Lamamra, the commissioner for the AU's peace and security council, praised ECOWAS for its efforts.
The coup leaders, Malian politicians and ECOWAS mediators are scheduled to meet in Burkina Faso this weekend to clarify the still murky management of the transitional period.
In Mali, five ministers and four other politicians of ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure's government were released Thursday, according to Captain Moussa Dindo, who is close to the junta, and family members.
The nine had been held at the coup leaders' headquarters, a military camp at Kati, near the capital Bamako.
The junta is expected to retain some influence, with observers saying coup loyalists could be named to key ministerial posts, notably those linked to security as the army tries to reverse the massive rebel gains.
Many of the Tuareg rebels, who have fought several separatist campaigns over the years, are heavily armed and battle-hardened from last year's Libya war where they fought as mercenaries for slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Joined by Islamist extremists linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), they made unprecedented gains in the weeks since the coup.
The main Tuareg rebel group, Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), has declared an independent state, a call rejected by the international community and by the MNLA's former Islamist allies.
Ansar Dine, the Islamist group that controls several key towns, has imposed sharia law in some areas under its influence and distanced itself from the Tuareg nationalist cause.
The UN Security Council has warned of the growing "terrorist threat" in northern Mali, while the world body's rights chief Navi Pillay said violations could be worsening in the rebel-held north.
Reports "suggest that civilians have been killed, robbed, raped and forced to flee", she said in a statement.
Both Ansar Dine and AQIM are recruiting children in a bid to boost their forces, a local elected official and a journalist in the region told AFP.
Ansar Dine, backed by AQIM, meanwhile took control of Timbuktu's renowned centre of historic manuscripts which keeps between 60,000 and 100,000 documents, sources said.