Military in Mali Detains Country’s Top Officials

BAMAKO, Mali — Military officers in Mali detained the president, prime minister and defense minister of the interim government on Monday, according to diplomatic and government sources, just nine months after a military coup ousted the previous president.

President Bah Ndaw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Defense Minister Souleymane Doucoure were all taken to a military base in Kati outside the capital, Bamako, hours after two members of the military lost their positions in a government reshuffle, the sources said.

Their detentions followed the military ouster in August of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and could worsen instability in the impoverished West African country, where violent Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State control large areas of the desert north.

Political instability and military infighting have complicated efforts by Western powers and neighboring countries to stabilize the situation in Mali, contributing to regional insecurity.

Mr. Ndaw and Mr. Ouane had been assigned to oversee an 18-month transition back to civilian rule after the August 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 the Kati military base is a notorious site for ending the rule of Malian leaders. The military took President Keita to Kati last August and forced him to resign. A mutiny there helped topple his predecessor, Amadou Toumani Toure, in 2012.

Mali has been in turmoil ever since. Mr. Toure’s departure triggered an ethnic Tuareg rebellion to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, a movement that was then hijacked by jihadists linked to Al Qaeda.

French forces beat the insurgents back in 2013 but they have since regrouped and regularly attack the army and civilians. They have exported their methods to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger where attacks have risen sharply 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 next February to restore a democratic government.

The action by the military officials “is regrettable, but not surprising,” said J. Peter Pham, the former U.S. special envoy for the Sahel who is now with the Atlantic Council. “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.”

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