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U.S. suspends aid to Mali in wake of coup

By Jamie Crawford, CNN
March 27, 2012 -- Updated 1109 GMT (1909 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The U.N. warns of a deteriorating situation across the region
  • "We want to see the elected government restored," the U.S. State Department says
  • Food and humanitarian aid is not affected by the government aid suspension
  • Three senior African diplomats stranded in Mali by the coup are out, the African Union says

Washington (CNN) -- The United States suspended a portion of its aid to Mali in light of last week's coup in the West African nation, the State Department said Monday.

"We have now taken the decision to suspend our assistance to the government of Mali pending a resolution of the situation on the ground," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "We want to see the elected government restored as quickly as possible."

Three senior African diplomats stranded in Mali by last week's military coup have been safely evacuated, the African Union announced Monday.

The foreign ministers of Kenya and Zimbabwe were flown out on an airplane provided by the government of Kenya, while the Tunisian secretary of state flew out with a group Tunisian nationals who lived and worked in Mali, the group said.

The diplomats were in Bamako, Mali, for a meeting of the African Union's Peace and Security Council when the coup began, trapping them in the city, the group said.

Erin Burnett's message for Mali

When African Union Commission chief Jean Ping spoke by telephone with Capt. Amadou Sanogo, the junta leader "promised to ensure the security and safe evacuation of the officials," the African Union said.

Sanogo's soldiers usurped power last week, wresting control of the nation from President Amadou Toumani Toure. Ping also asked Sanogo about Toure's location and condition, the group said. He "reiterated the need to ensure his safety and the immediate return of the country to constitutional legality," it said.

The United States is suspending assistance on a government-to-government level, Nuland said. Food and humanitarian aid, mostly administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development, would not be affected by the announcement, she said.

The United States gives Mali's government roughly $140 million in aid each year. Approximately half of that sum is dedicated to food humanitarian assistance, Nuland said. "I am expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 (million) to $70 million in assistance will be suspended," she said.

At the United Nations, the Security Council restated its condemnation of the coup, demanding that the junta "cease all violence and return to their barracks."

"The Security Council calls for the restoration of constitutional order, and the holding of elections as previously scheduled," read a presidential statement from the council, issued Monday.

Mali is seen by many Western governments as a crucial ally in the fight against the regional affiliate offshoot of al Qaeda. But it faces a new insurgency in the northern part of the country by Tuareg nomads, and the mutineers who ousted Toure accused his government of mishandling the uprising.

The latest revolt took root in late 2011 but gained momentum in January, when the rebels began attacking towns in northern Mali. It has been further energized by an influx of arms and Tuareg fighters who had served under former Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

In Monday's statement, the Security Council called for the rebels "to seek a peaceful solution through appropriate political dialogue." And it expressed "serious concern" about what it called "the insecurity and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation" in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa, which includes Mali and its neighbors.

"The Security Council encourages the international community to provide support to resolve the crisis in Mali and the Sahel region based on an integrated strategy for immediate and long term needs, encompassing security, development and humanitarian issues," the council statement read. It said the crisis was being complicated "by the presence of armed groups and terrorist groups, and their activities, as well as by the proliferation of weapons from within and outside the region."

The African Union suspended Mali's membership in the group following the coup, and the State Department has warned against travel to the country.

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