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Civilian, military figures arrested in post-coup Mali

By Serge Daniel


Those arrested included former prime minister Modibo Sidibe (pictured) and Soumaila Cisse. By Sia Kambou (AFP/File)


BAMAKO (AFP) - Armed men rounded up top Malian officials including two presidential hopefuls in a show of force by a junta that seized power last month ahead of the expected appointment Tuesday of an interim premier.

Those arrested included former prime minister Modibo Sidibe and Soumaila Cisse, a former minister who led the West African Economic and Monetary Union until November last year.

Cisse suffered an unspecified injury while fleeing his home, and was later arrested at a hospital and taken by ambulance to the junta's headquarters in Kati, near Bamako, a family source said.

Both Sidibe and Cisse were leading candidates in a presidential election set for April 29 that was derailed by the March 22 coup.

A family member said "several armed men including two or three wearing masks" raided Sidibe's home, arresting him for the third time since the coup.

Police chief Mahamadou Diagouraga, former defence minister Sadio Gassama and Hamidou Sissoko, a top aide to ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, were among others arrested in overnight raids and whisked to Kati.

A Malian security source said the arrests would be explained "when the time comes."

Aides to interim president Dioncounda Traore said he had no prior knowledge of the raids.

Observers said the raids appeared to be aimed at showing that the junta led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, which ceded power to Traore last week, does not intend to be sidelined by politicians.

The April 6 deal, brokered by the Economic Community of West African States, amnesties the putschists and gives the prime minister "full powers" at the head of a "national unity" government to include the military.

Possible interim premiers include an astrophysicist, Cheick Modibo Diarra, who entered politics in March 2011 by creating the Rally for Mali's Development to stand in the now aborted presidential election.

The interim prime minister's top priority will be to negotiate with Tuareg and Islamist rebels as well as various criminal groups who took advantage of the coup to overrun much of the country's north.

Initial contacts been made with some of the groups since Traore's inauguration, and he has vowed "total and implacable war" if talks fail.

The low-ranking army officers who staged the putsch justified their action by denouncing the government's ineffective resistance to the Tuareg rebellion, which was rekindled in January.

The coup prompted the rebels, joined by Islamists, to capture an area roughly the size of France, including the ancient town of Timbuktu.

The main Tuareg rebel group Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) then declared an independent state, drawing international condemnation.

A member of MNLA's political branch said Monday that a first official meeting between the rebels and Malian authorities had gone well and mooted the possibility of a federation.

The make-up of the new interim government was to be decided later this week.

But the length of the transition period is a key stumbling block. Under the constitution, an interim presidency should last only 40 days, but the ECOWAS-brokered deal recognised that it could take longer to organise new elections and return Mali to constitutional rule.

Nine prominent figures were freed last week after being arrested during the putsch. Five were members of Toure's government, including his foreign minister, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga.

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