Mali junta agrees to 18-month transition government

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s military junta, which staged a coup last month, agreed Saturday to an 18-month transition government led by a military or civilian leader that would pave the way to elections.

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Three days of consultations with leaders of political and civil society groups laid out a charter for the transition, which will also include a vice president and transitional council that will serve as the National Assembly. The president and vice president will be chosen by a group of people appointed by the junta, according to Moussa Camara, spokesman for the talks.

Mali’s opposition coalition, the international communities and the West African regional bloc have called for a civilian leader for the transition.

The 15-nation West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS has warned the junta must designate a transitional civilian leader by next week or face further sanctions. ECOWAS has already stopped financial transfers into the country and has closed its borders with Mali.

The military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, previously proposed a three-year transition, saying that a new constitution should be written first.

On Saturday, the leader of the junta, Col. Assimi Goita, said he hoped for the support of the international community.

“I make the commitment before you to spare no effort to implement the recommendations of these days of consultations in the exclusive interest of the Malian people,” he said.

Baba Dakono, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies who is closely following the talks, said that if a civilian leader is ultimately chosen, they will be close to the junta, and there will be a strong military presence in the other positions of power.

It’s likely other civilian participants will have links to the opposition coalition M5-RFP that held huge anti-government protests for weeks before the coup, he said.

The charter approved Saturday gives control of defense, security and re-foundation of the state to the vice president.

The international pressure for a quick transition is intended to avoid a protracted political crisis that could be taken advantage of by Mali’s growing Islamic insurgency. A military coup in Mali in 2012 led to a power vacuum that was exploited by jihadists, who managed to seize major towns in the north before France led a military intervention the following year to oust them.

Armed groups from Mali’s north, notably the Coordination for the Movement of Azawad, who had signed a peace agreement with the government, did not travel to the capital, Bamako, to participate in the consultations. The junta had intended to travel to Kidal in the north to hold talks last week but were prevented by weather conditions.

“We have men, weapons and we control two-thirds of the country and the CNSP is no more legitimate than us,” said Sidi Brahim Ould Sidatt, the president of the Azawad group. “We have two choices to make now: Either we enter the transition process and have made a new constitution of Mali together in which we recognize ourselves, or we wait after the transition and we continue negotiations with the government that will be put in place.”

ECOWAS leaders will hold a summit in Ghana on Tuesday to discuss the Mali transition with the junta. The president and prime minister of the transition will then be appointed.

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Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.