Junta claims control in Mali

Junta claims control in Mali

Gunfire echoed across Bamako today as Malian government troops battled each other, with one side trying to oust soldiers who seized power in a coup over a month ago.

Mali’s coup leaders, who ostensibly handed over power to an interim civilian government on April 12 but who still wield power, said they control the state broadcaster, the airport and a military base, fending off attacks by opposing forces.

Coup leader Capt Amadou Sanogo told a private radio station on Monday night that the countercoup had failed and that his soldiers had captured foreign fighters.

A senior Western diplomat based in Bamako said the fighting apparently started when forces loyal to the junta tried to arrest the former head of the presidential guard.

The presidential guard is part of Mali’s parachutist regiment, known as the Red Berets, who are believed to have remained loyal to President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was ousted during the coup.

Anti-junta forces on Monday tried to take over the country’s state broadcaster and attacked the airport and the junta’s main military base.

Soldiers loyal to Sanogo appeared on state television early today and said the important installations remain in their hands after fighting started yesterday. But heavy gunfire across Bamako suggests that the leaders of the March coup do not yet have total control over the capital.

A source close to the junta said reinforcements were coming from other major Malian towns to strengthen the junta’s position.

“The first reinforcements have already arrived and others will be in Bamako soon,” the soldier said.

A resident in the camp where most of the military personnel who tried to stage the countercoup live said Sanogo’s forces are trying to capture those soldiers.

“Most of the families who live here and most of the military personnel have fled, but they still come to attack the camp,” the resident said. He said that he could hear both small arms fire and heavy weapons but could not give more details as he was afraid to leave his house.

State television showed a small group of prisoners along with guns, ammunition and grenades supposedly belonging to the captured troops.

“Those arrested come from different origins and were supported by hidden internal forces,” a statement read by soldiers said. “Some of these people have been detained by the armed forces and an in-depth investigation will take place. We remind you that everyone involved... will be tracked down and brought before the competent jurisdictions.”

Sanogo has signed a deal with ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, to return the country to constitutional rule. The deal gave the junta a supervisory role in the transition. But Sanogo said on Sunday that he rejects a plan to send ECOWAS troops to Mali to protect the president’s and prime minister’s office.

Mali is also battling insecurity in its desert north where separatist rebels have declared independence, and militants are trying to impose strict Islamic law.

Tuareg separatist fighters and Islamic militants took advantage of the chaos caused by the coup in Bamako last month to quickly advance and capture the three main towns in the north of Mali at the end of March. Mali government forces fled south without putting up any major resistance.

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