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Mali’s military releases transitional leaders as UN asks army to return to barracks

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Mali’s military has released the transitional president and prime minister from detention, a top officer said on Thursday.

The release of President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane came after they resigned on Wednesday in the presence of international arbitrators who were in the West African nation to mediate the political crisis, according to Maj. Baba Cisse.

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“Indeed, the former president and former prime minister were released," Cisse told The Associated Press.

The UN Security Council indicated the resignations were forced and demanded an immediate resumption of the civilian-led transitional government, saying after a closed meeting on Wednesday that military personnel should return to their barracks.

The UN, the African Union, other international bodies and the United States had urged Mali’s military to release Ouane and N’Daw.

The two were arrested on Monday, along with other leaders of the transitional government, hours after naming a new Cabinet that did not include two key military leaders.

By deposing the president and prime minister, the head of Mali’s 2020 coup, Col. Assimi Goita, who has served as transitional vice president since September, regained control of the West African country.

Goita said he intends to now lead the transition, according to a West African diplomat who was involved in mediations. The diplomat was not permitted to discuss the subject with reporters and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Cisse, who is a special advisor to Goita, said late Wednesday that the release of the two arrested leaders “will be done gradually for the obvious security reasons.”

He recited a list of reasons for the arrests of Mali’s heads of government, including accusations that the prime minister blocked the vice president on certain defense and security issues and violated the transitional charter by not consulting Goita about the formation of a new government.

The political crisis in the midst of an 18-month civilian transition to democratic elections following the 2020 coup risks plunging the troubled nation into further instability and has sparked international condemnation.

Goita has said he would stick with 2022 elections, but his recent moves sparked mistrust.

The 15-member UN Security Council met on Wednesday over Mali and in a statement said that “imposing a change of transitional leadership by force, including through forced resignations, is unacceptable.”

The Security Council said it was concerned the developments would risk “ongoing efforts to counter terrorism, implement the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, and stabilize the center of Mali.”

Representatives from the African Union and the West African regional group known as ECOWAS were in Mali to mediate the political crisis.

Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who mediated in Mali after the 2020 coup, led the delegation.

French President Emmanuel Macron described the week’s events as a coup and warned of repercussions, including targeted sanctions.

The European Union warned that it would consider targeted measures against “political and military leaders who obstruct the Malian transition.”

The United States strongly condemned the detention of the civilian leaders.

The State Department said would suspend security assistance to Malian forces. The US said it would also consider targeted measures against leaders obstructing the civilian-led transition.

The latest unrest could further destabilize efforts to control Mali’s long-running Islamic insurgency.

A power vacuum amid a 2012 coup d’etat unleashed years of chaos in Mali and allowed Islamic extremists to seize control of northern towns.

Ultimately, a French-led military operation ousted the jihadists from strongholds in 2013, but they have regrouped and since expanded their reach.