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Mali coup leader denies looting by his soldiers

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 24, 2012 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Capt. Amadou Sanago blamed "ill-intentioned" people for the vandalism
  • Looters ransacked the capital, Bamako, after food and fuel became scarce
  • Renegade soldiers rose up over the government's handing of the Tuareg insurgency
  • The coup in Mali, a stronghold for democracy, drew international condemnation

Bamako, Mali (CNN) -- Mali's junta leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo decried looting of offices and shops in the capital, Bamako, but deflected blame from his renegade soldiers who staged a coup just weeks before scheduled elections.

Sanogo blamed "ill-intentioned" people who were against the military takeover in Mali, once hailed as a shining example of African democracy.

Vandals ransacked Bamako, after food, fuel and basic commodities became scarce.

"I deplore the acts of vandalism and pillaging which have occurred," Sanogo said on state television late Friday, urging Malians to stop the vandalism.

"This is not our mission, this is not our cause, this is not our objective," he said.

Erin Burnett's message for Mali

Sanogo's soldiers usurped power earlier this week, wresting control of the nation from President Amadou Toumani Toure.

The coup drew immediate and strong international condemnation. The African Union suspended Mali's membership Friday and the United States said that aid to the West African nation of 15 million people could "very seriously be affected."

The United States gives Mali's government roughly $140 million in aid each year.

"A little more than half of that is humanitarian aid -- food, etc. -- that would not be affected. But if the situation is not resolved democratically, the remaining portion of that aid could very seriously be affected," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

"Any U.S. assistance to the government of Mali, beyond what we give for humanitarian purposes, is at risk if we cannot get back to a democratic situation in the country," she said.

The new military junta suspended Mali's constitution and closed the nation's borders.

Toure's whereabouts remain unknown. The military has only said that "he is safe."

African Union chief Jean Ping said Toure was in still in Mali and was apparently "protected by his royal guard." Nuland said the same.

The mutineers who seized control accused the government of mishandling an insurgency by Tuareg nomads, who have long called for the creation of an independent state and have risen up against the Malian government a number of times since the 1960s.

The indigenous tribe are spread across Mali, Libya, Algeria, Niger and Burkina Faso.

The latest uprising began to take root late last year but gained momentum in January, when the rebels began attacking towns in northern Mali. It has been further energized by an influx of fighters who had been fighting on behalf of former Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

The Tuareg took advantage of the chaos in the capital and pushed south to occupy the town of Anefis, previously held by the Malian soldiers, according to an online statement from the Azawad National Liberation Movement.

They announced on Radio France International that they would go after other cities, including Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, that they said were rightfully theirs.

The statement said the coup would not affect the Tuareg quest for a separate homeland.

Sanogo has said he would reach out to the rebels for talks.

The junta declared a nationwide curfew but called on people to return to work Tuesday. It also said Mali will hold elections for a new president, though no date was announced.

A 1991 military coup led by Toure ended a dictatorship in the landlocked nation. Toure became president in 2002, was re-elected in 2007 and was scheduled to step down in April, when elections were set to pick his successor.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako advised Americans to stay within their homes because of the instability. The State Department warned against travel to Mali.

Jennifer G. Cooke, Africa director of the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Mali coup, if ultimately successful, would be a major setback to the nation's political development.

"With the region, the international community and very likely the vast majority of Malians in stark opposition, there is no good outcome here, and things are likely to end very badly for the mutineers," Cooke wrote on the center's website.

The growing Tuareg insurgency has raised concerns in Washington, which sees Mali as an important ally against al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the sub-Saharan offshoot of the terrorist group.

The ongoing violence between these rebels and security forces has compelled tens of thousands of Malians to flee into neighboring countries and created turmoil in Toure's administration.

Conflict in the region has forced the United Nations to appeal for $35.6 million to address the growing humanitarian crisis as throngs of Malians flee into neighboring countries.

CNN's Pierre Meilhan and Moni Basu and journalist Julius Cavendish contributed to this report.

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