Mali’s new prime minister vowed Wednesday to prioritize the country’s problems in the north after his predecessor was forced out of office and placed under house arrest by soldiers responsible for a military coup earlier this year.
This week’s political turmoil has deepened concerns about Mali’s stability at a time when the international community is considering backing a military intervention, including Malian soldiers, to oust the country’s north from the hands of radical Islamists.
Longtime civil servant Diango Cissoko was chosen late Tuesday as the new prime minister in Mali’s transitional government, first set up after the military coup in March.
Cissoko said the new government would address the crisis in the north, where radical Islamists have carried out public executions, amputations and whippings as they implement their version of strict Islamic law. The prime minister has started efforts to form a new government, which is expected to be announced before the end of the week.
He made the comments following a visit with the country’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore and vowed to tackle the issues aggressively.
“The president told me his priorities which are already known are the recapturing of the north and the setting up of credible elections before the end of the transition,” he said afterward.
The military ouster of Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra already has prompted fierce criticism from the United Nations, the United States, the African Union and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS among others.
The president of the African Union commission strongly condemned the recent events in Mali and called for the “complete subordination of the army and security forces to civilian authority.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also warned that the forced resignation makes Western countries wary of getting involved in a military incursion in the north.
“One thing is clear: Our offers of help come with the condition that the process of restoring constitutional order in Mali be conducted credibly,” he said.
The latest developments also have raised concerns among ordinary Malians.
“We don’t really understand the reaction of Capt. Sanogo (coup leader). Instead of creating an atmosphere of understanding between politicians in Bamako to resolve our problem in the north, Sanogo still continues to create trouble in Bamako,” said Maouloud Daou, who lives in Hombori, a city under the control of radical Islamists.
The 62-year-old Cissoko held a number of positions under the administration of longtime President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was overthrown by mutinous soldiers in March. Coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo never relinquished control despite pledges to do so, and on Monday forces loyal to him arrested Diarra at his home.
Junta spokesman Bakary Mariko acknowledged that soldiers allied with the coup leader had detained the prime minister and now have him under house arrest. Mariko said Diarra was “not getting along” with either the interim president or Sanogo.
Two security officials, including a police officer and an intelligence agent, confirmed that Sanogo had ordered the prime minister’s arrest.
On state television Tuesday, Sanogo accused Diarra of pursuing his personal ambitions rather than the good of the country.
“We didn’t force him. We facilitated (his resignation). A few weeks ago, he himself told us that if we really wanted him to leave, that he would hand in (his resignation) but not to the president of the republic, nor to any other authority — only to us,” said Sanogo. “Yesterday we realized that it was really necessary for him to resign. And it’s for this reason that we brought him to Kati.”
Diarra was initially seen as being in-step with Sanogo. Critics lambasted him for frequently driving to the Kati barracks to see the coup leader, long after Sanogo was supposed to have handed power to civilians. In recent weeks though, Diarra has taken stances that sometimes conflicted with Sanogo.
The new prime minister, Cissoko, won favor with Sanogo by giving him equal standing with the interim president and prime minister during mediation efforts to resolve Mali’s political crisis.
The military’s meddling in state affairs has concerned the international community. Many worry that supporting the operation will simply further arm and embolden the very officers responsible for Mali’s current state.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called Diarra’s arrest a setback for Mali. “We need Sanogo and his brothers-in-arms to stay out of politics,” she told reporters.
The U.N. Security Council threatened to impose sanctions against those blocking a return to constitutional order in Mali and called on the armed forces to stop interfering in state affairs.