Tuesday, May 01, 2012

More Gunfire in Mali; Junta Claims Control of Key Sites

Heavy Fighting in Capital Between Rival Army Factions

Gunfire could still be heard Tuesday morning in Mali's capital, Bamako, after heavy fighting throughout Monday between rival factions of the army. The country's military junta, which seized power in a coup last month, but was supposed to be stepping aside for a civilian transitional government, said Tuesday that its forces had withstood attacks on multiple sites.

At about 4:00 a.m. local time on state television Tuesday, a soldier with the junta declared that the group controls the airport, the central TV station and its own headquarters, following attacks Monday on the three sites.

Residents of Bamako said red berets - soldiers loyal to ousted president Amadou Toumani Touré - deployed throughout the capital on Monday, setting up barricades at strategic points. Loyalist soldiers also were seen headed to Kati, the town just outside Bamako where the junta is headquartered.

Clashes and Casualties

The loyalist soldiers clashed with junta troops in Kati and in Bamako, and there are reports of several dead.

The junta said Tuesday, though, it had the situation under control.

Surrounded by a group of men, some in army fatigues and some in civilian clothing, the soldier said the junta would like to inform the Malian people and the international community that ill-intentioned people attacked the junta’s military base, state television and the airport, with the aim of destabilizing Mali’s transition to constitutional order.

The soldier said the junta has detained several of those who clashed with junta troops on Monday. He said the individuals who attacked come from various backgrounds and were supported by unknown entities.

A resident of Bamako said the leader of the March 22 coup, Amadou Sanogo, made a statement Monday night in the local Bamanan language on a local pro-junta radio station, saying that many soldiers were killed in clashes at the entrance of Kati.

Casualties Include Other W. African Nationals 

Mady Gambélé, an assistant to Sanogo, told VOA that among those killed and captured are people from other West African countries.

It is not yet clear to what extent the loyalist soldiers’ actions were planned, or under whose orders they were operating. The junta early Monday reportedly had sent men to arrest a member of the presidential guard who was a top military aide to former president Touré, and who provoked clashes.

During the weekend, coup leader Sanogo publicly rejected decisions by the West African bloc ECOWAS to extend the term of the transitional government to 12 months and to deploy ECOWAS troops in Mali.

The junta continues to wield power, even though a transitional civilian president, prime minister and government have been put in place.

Junta members had been scheduled to meet Tuesday with ECOWAS mediator Blaise Compaoré, president of Burkina Faso, in the Burkina capital Ouagadougou.

Government offices are closed on Tuesday, which is a national holiday in Mali.