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Mali coup leader agrees to return power

Malian junta leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, makes a declaration at the Kati military camp near Bamako on Sunday.

Story highlights

  • Coup leaders to hand power back to civilian government
  • The parties agreed to set up a transition process leading to a presidential election
  • The announcement comes after rebels declare independence for territory in northern Mali
  • The international community had imposed restrictions on Mali amid turmoil

Mali state television announced late Friday that the leader of Mali's coup, Captain Amadou Sanogo, and the Economic Community of West African States have agreed to a plan under which the coup leaders will hand over power to the civilian government in exchange for the end of trade and diplomatic sanctions.

The statement was read in French over ORTM, the state TV network.

The parties agreed to set up a transition process leading to a presidential election, Sanogo said. A transitional prime minister will lead the transition "to manage the crisis in the north of Mali and to organize free, transparent and democratic elections in accordance with a road map," he said.

The international community -- including West African states, the African Union and the United States -- had called for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule. The African Union and ECOWAS had also slapped the military junta with travel and economic restrictions, and had frozen its assets.

Sanctions targeted the supporters and relatives of the military junta and all those involved in contributing to the "destabilization" of Mali, the African Union said.

Under the sanctions, five neighboring nations were to close their borders to landlocked Mali except for humanitarian purposes and deny the nation access to their ports, freeze its accounts in regional banks, and suspend its participation in cultural and sporting events.

    The announcement of a promised return to civilian rule came shortly after separatist rebels, who had captured large areas of Mali's vast Sahara region in the north of the country, declared independence for a region they call Azawad.

    The declaration was made in a statement posted online by the secretary general of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA).

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    The claim of independence followed "more than 50 years of corruption and poor governance with the complicity of the army and the politicians, putting people's lives at risk in Azawad," the MNLA said.

    In a statement, the African Union expressed its "total rejection" of the rebels' independence claim.

    The African Union will do all it can to restore the authority of the government of Mali to its entire territory and "bring to an end the attacks being carried out by armed and terrorist groups in the northern part of the country," it said.

    French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said the declaration of independence in northern Mali was meaningless if it was not recognized by African states. France is the former colonial power in Mali.

    The Tuareg rebels' seizure of northern Mali followed a military coup last month that toppled the government and threw the country into turmoil.

    The rebels had called a cease-fire Thursday, saying they had captured key territory in the Sahara region and achieved their military mission.

    The Tuaregs, who consider Azawad to be the cradle of their nomadic civilization, launched an insurgency in January to achieve a separate homeland. The conflict has uprooted more than 200,000 people from their homes.

    Buoyed by the chaos after last month's coup, the rebels swept through the north and wrested control of several strategic cities, including Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu.

    The rebels effectively split the West African nation in two, and northern areas remained volatile and tense, preventing aid agencies from accessing displaced people, the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday.

    ECOWAS representatives met Thursday in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan, to discuss possible military intervention in Mali to restore democratically elected Amadou Toumani Toure to the presidency.

    After the March 22 coup, Mali, long a shining example of democracy and stability in Africa, was plunged into crisis.

    Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu experienced days of looting, abductions and chaos after they were occupied by armed groups late last week.

    In the capital, Bamako, the military leaders who had overthrown the president because of his alleged inability to handle the Tuareg rebellion postponed plans Thursday for a national convention aimed at addressing political woes.

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