New Malian PM vows to recover rebel-held north

AFP, BAMAKO

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 - Page 6

Newly appointed Malian Prime Minister Diango Cissoko on Tuesday said that his priorities are to regain control of the north from Islamists and reunify the country, amid international condemnation of his predecessor’s ouster.

“The priority is the recovery of the north and the organization of elections ... I want to create a government of national unity,” Cissoko told reporters, just hours after his appointment in place of former Malian prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, who quit on Tuesday under military pressure.

Acting Malian President Dioncounda Traore swiftly appointed Cissoko — a veteran public servant — after Diarra was forced out.

Diarra quit after being arrested by soldiers on orders from former coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, a move swiftly condemned by the UN and US.

The UN Security council joined calls from France, the US, the European Union and regional bloc ECOWAS for the military to stop meddling in political affairs, and threatened targeted sanctions against those preventing the restoration of constitutional order.

The fresh crisis in the West African nation comes amid confusion over plans for a foreign military intervention to drive out the Islamists who occupied more than half of Mali’s territory in the wake of a coup led by Sanogo in March.

Diarra’s resignation came a day after the EU approved plans to deploy an military training mission of about 250 troops Mali to help Bamako regain control of the north.

The 60-year-old astrophysicist and former chairman of Microsoft Africa was seized at home by soldiers late on Monday and hours later went on state television to announce he was stepping down.

A spokesman for Sanogo’s former junta in Europe, Bakary Mariko, told France 24 television the event was “not a new coup d’etat,” but observers say it was clear Diarra was strongarmed out.

“The objective [of the ouster] is most likely to prevent a direct ECOWAS military deployment in Mali which would undermine the power base of Captain Sanogo and his associates,” London-based analyst Samir Gadio said.

A member of Diarra’s family, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters the former prime minister was “under house arrest.”

Diarra was an advocate of French-backed plans to send in a West African intervention force to drive out the extremists, who are running the zone according to their brutal interpretation of Shariah Islamic law.

Such foreign intervention is fiercely opposed by Sanogo, who still wields considerable influence despite handing over power to an interim government after his March 22 coup.