Counter-Coup Attempt Fails to Dislodge Malian Junta
The military junta that overthrew former president Amadou Toumani Touré on 22 March 2012 has announced that it is still in control of key institutions after an apparent counter-coup attempt by members of the elite Presidential Guard still loyal to the old civilian government.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
The clashes between junta loyalists and members of the presidential guard, who the former said were backed by "foreign powers", comes despite a degree of progress on the transition back to civilian rule and was likely inspired by threats by the junta to retake power in a month if elections are not organised.
The incident underlines the tenuousness of the relationship between the junta—composed largely of junior officers and enlisted men—and the ECOWAS-backed transitional administration of interim president Dioncounda Traore.
The failed attempt to dislodge the junta could lead its leaders to become more intractable in the face of ongoing negotiations surrounding the organising of elections and the transition back to constitutional rule.
Fighting between units of the Presidential Guard—known as the "Red Berets", a force of 2,000-3,000 loyal to the toppled president Amadou Toumani Touré—and soldiers from the National Council for the Re-establishment of Democracy and Restoration of the State (CNRDR), the junta that ousted him, took place overnight in and around the capital of Bamako. According to eyewitnesses cited by Reuters and Agence France-Presse (AFP), clashes erupted near the city's international airport, close to the CNRDR base in the garrison town of Kati, located north-west of Bamako, and within the capital itself as loyalist troops attempted to wrest control of state broadcaster ORTM from the junta. Representatives of the CNRDR released a statement at around 03:00 local time from the ORTM building, announcing that they had repelled an attack and that the "situation is under control". Another radio station broadcast a message from the junta leadership, claiming that "mercenaries" and "foreign troops" were involved, but these claims have not been independently verified. Some claims published in local and international press suggest that the fighting was sparked by the attempted arrest by CNRDR troops of the head of the Red Berets, a Touré loyalist named Abidine Guindo.
The number of casualties has not yet been disclosed, but an eyewitness cited by AFP said that "there were deaths" near the ORTM building. According to the local media, the fighting was centred around the town of Kati, home to a large army barracks and the unofficial seat of the CNRDR junta since it overthrew the government on 22 March. According to unnamed diplomatic sources cited by AFP, the loyalist forces cut the road between the capital and Kati, located approximately 15 kilometres north-west of the city, before surrounding the town.
The news of the counter-coup comes as a junta delegation was scheduled to meet with Burkinabé president and ECOWAS mediator Blaise Compaoré today (1 May) to discuss the transition, which has been proceeding in fits and starts since CNRDR leader Captain Amadou Sanogo agreed to hand over to an interim government headed by former speaker of the National Assembly Dioncounda Traore. The smoothness of the transition has since been undermined by Sanogo after he announced that the CNRDR would stick to the 40-day timeframe mandated by the constitution for the organisation of national elections—the interim government had called for a period of 12 months—and threatened to retake power from the Traore administration if it failed. Sanogo also rejected the involvement of an ECOWAS stabilisation force agreed upon last week, thus setting the tone for a contentious process (see Mali: 30 April 2012: Malian Junta Rejects ECOWAS Role in Transition).
Outlook and Implications
The attempted counter-coup—if it was indeed ordered by the interim government or tacitly backed by ECOWAS—is likely to prove a severe setback to the progress of the transition and is likely to convince the CNRDR to dig in its heels. If proven, the presence of foreign fighters is also worrisome for the prospects of an externally-mediated transition as it will force the CNRDR into a more conservative stance. Claims by a junta officer cited by an eyewitness in the AFP report that several of the foreign fighters bore Burkinabé tribal markings could further exacerbate the deterioration of the transition framework as suspicions are raised about the complicity of that country's leadership in taking down the CNRDR. The attacks may also prompt another wave of arrests of loyalist figures by the CNRDR after up to 22 current and former politicians and administration figures were rounded up last month (see Mali: 18 April 2012: Malian Junta Flexes Muscle with Political Arrests, Interim PM Appointed). Uncertainty is likely to continue in Bamako in the near term as the CNRDR attempts to maintain its relevance in the face of the internationally-backed transition plan hatched by ECOWAS and the Traore administration, and the latter attempts to find a way to circumvent the junta's influence and obstinacy.
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