The president and prime minister in Mali are released by the military after the couple resigned while in detention

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Mali’s deposed president and prime minister have been released by the country’s military after the couple resigned, a military representative said today.

Interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were arrested on Monday and taken to a military base outside the capital, threatening an 18-month transition to democracy following a coup last August.

International powers, including the United States and military ally France, concerned about deteriorating security in Mali and its neighbors, have condemned the arrests and threatened sanctions.

The two men resigned during their detention on Wednesday.

President Bah Ndaw (photo) and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were transported to a military compound in Kati outside the capital Bamako on Monday.

The couple resigned Wednesday and were released by the military.  Pictured: Prime Minister Moctar Ouane

The couple resigned Wednesday and were released by the military. Pictured: Prime Minister Moctar Ouane

The arrests were orchestrated by Vice President Assimi Goita, who led the coup last year that toppled former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

“They resigned, their release was scheduled, we have nothing against them,” said Goita assistant Baba Cissa.

Ndaw and Ouane’s whereabouts will be kept secret to protect their safety, Cissa told Reuters. He refused to work out plans for their replacement.

Goita ordered their arrest following a cabinet reshuffle that saw two fellow coup leaders fired from their posts.

He has promised that next year’s elections will continue. But on Thursday, his legal counsel Youssouf Coulibaly suggested this commitment wasn’t set in stone.

Army members stand guard while the delegation of the mediators of the Economic Community of West African States meets with Vice President Colonel Assimi Goita about the crisis in Mali, in Bamako, Mali, 26 May 2021

Army members stand guard while the delegation of the mediators of the Economic Community of West African States meets with Vice President Colonel Assimi Goita about the crisis in Mali, in Bamako, Mali, 26 May 2021

These 18 months are sacred to us and we will respect them. At the end of it, people will be able to say whether they want to continue the transition, whether they want to go to elections, or whether they want to continue the transition with new leaders, ”he told Reuters.

This decision will be made after consultation with stakeholders, he said.

He added that Goita is currently in charge, but negotiations are underway to appoint a new government.

Mali’s influential M5-RFP political coalition, which led anti-government protests ahead of last year’s coup, has opposed Ndaw and Ouane’s leadership but also said it would strongly oppose Goita’s nomination as president.

The leadership question could exacerbate a security crisis in the northern desert of Mali, where militants linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State often take advantage of political uncertainty.

The militants have used Mali as a base in recent years to launch attacks over the Sahel. In the arid region south of the Sahara, the number of fatal attacks has increased eightfold between 2015 and 2020. More than 5 million people have been displaced.

President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were transported to a military compound in Kati outside the capital, Bamako

President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were transported to a military compound in Kati outside the capital, Bamako

The EU military mission in Mali (EUTM), which briefly halted its training program in 2020 in the wake of the August coup, said on Thursday that Malian soldiers will continue to receive training.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and not making an abrupt decision,” said Lieutenant Colonel Pardo, the mission’s spokesman.

Kati’s military base is notorious for ending the rule of Malian leaders. Last August, the military took President Keita to Kati and forced him to resign. A mutiny there in 2012 helped overthrow its predecessor Amadou Toumani Toure.

Mali has been in turmoil ever since. Toure’s departure sparked an ethnic Tuareg uprising to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, which was hijacked by Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists.

The French forces defeated the insurgents in 2013, but they have since regrouped and regularly carry out attacks on the military and civilians. They have exported their methods to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, where attacks have exploded since 2017.

There appeared to be some cause for optimism. The transitional government said last month that it would hold parliamentary and presidential elections in February 2022 to restore a democratic government.

“ It is regrettable but not surprising: the settlement agreed after last year’s coup was not perfect, but it was a compromise agreed upon by all major Malian and international stakeholders, ” said J. Peter Pham, former special envoy of the US for the Sahel, now at the Atlantic Council, told Reuters.

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