7 Apr 2012

Mali coup leaders agree to elections

2:20 pm on 7 April 2012

Coup leaders in Mali have agreed to stand down and allow a transition to civilian rule, as part of a deal struck with the regional political grouping Ecowas.

In return, Ecowas will lift trade and economic sanctions and grant amnesty to the ruling junta.

The move came after Tuareg rebels in northern Mali declared independence for the territory they call Azawad, the BBC reports.

The desert tribesmen seized the area after the coup two weeks ago plunged the West African nation into political crisis.

Under the terms of transition plan, military rulers will cede power to the parliamentary speaker, Diouncounda Traore, who as interim president will oversee a timetable for elections. Once sworn in, Mr Traore would have 40 days to organise elections.

The deal was signed by coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo but did not name a date for him to hand over power.

Earlier, international bodies rejected a call from Tuareg rebels for their newly named region of Azawad to be recognised as independent

The secular Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is one of two main groups fighting a rebellion in the north.

The territory claimed by the rebels roughly corresponds to the three northern regions of Mali which make up a zone larger than France.

The nomadic people have nurtured the dream of a Saharan homeland since Mali's independence in 1960, but have little foreign support for a move neighbours fear could encourage other separatist movements.

Ansar Dine, an Islamist group, has also made gains and has started to impose Sharia law in some towns.

Ansar Dine military chief, Omar Hamaha, said it was waging a holy war and wanted no part of the Tuareg independence move. "We are against revolutions not in the name of Islam," he told the AFP news agency.

The US State Department rejected the MNLA independence call, as did the 54-state African Union which urged the rest of the world to shun the secession bid.

Former colonial power France said it was now up to Mali's neighbours to see whether talks were possible with the MNLA - a move that could target an autonomy deal short of independence.