Mali’s junta stared down crippling sanctions from west African neighbors yesterday over a coup that has allowed separatist Tuareg rebels to seize the country’s northern half, including fabled Timbuktu.
Both France and Belgium urged their citizens to leave the country which has slid into chaos since low-ranking officers ousted the government on March 22, claiming it had failed to take action on an insurgency in the north.
However, the power vacuum played into the hands of the insurgents — a motley crew of Tuaregs and Islamists — who have captured key towns in the vast arid north virtually unopposed.
As the ancient city of Timbuktu fell on Sunday and the bow-tie shaped nation appeared split in two by the Tuareg juggernaut, time ran out for the junta on a 72-hour deadline set by its neighbors to restore democracy or face sanctions.
The 15-state Economic Community of West African States was scheduled to meet in Dakar yesterday on whether to close their borders to Mali and cut it off from the regional central bank.
The regional bloc has also warned it has 2,000 troops on alert for a possible intervention.
The junta on Sunday announced various compromises in a bid to stave off sanctions, which could bring the landlocked nation to its knees.
Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo said that Mali’s constitution would be “restored” and announced the reinstatement of state institutions, promising elections in which the junta would not take part.
However, the man who led a band of renegade soldiers who overthrew the regime barely six weeks before a presidential election told a reporter that the junta was “not going anywhere.”
With a disorganized junta struggling to assert its authority and former tourist hubs such as Timbuktu under the control of Islamist-backed rebels, both Paris and Belgium advised their citizens to leave.