Renegade Soldiers Claim Coup In Mali

Renegade soldiers in Mali say they've successfully overthrown the country's president and seized power. Audie Cornish talks to Ofeibea Quist-Arcton for more.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A trusted U.S. ally in Africa, the president of Mali, was overthrown today. Mali's army staged the coup, explaining the move in this television announcement by an army officer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: (Speaking foreign language)

CORNISH: He says all institutions of the Republic are dissolved until further notice and an inclusive government will be created after consultation with all the nation's representatives. The west African nation has been battling a separatist rebellion since January. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is monitoring the situation from neighboring Senegal and she tells us the soldiers who staged the coup accuse the president of failing to equip them well enough to fight the insurgency.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: From what we know, Audie, they're very junior officers in Mali's army. The person who actually made the coup announcement is a lieutenant, Lieutenant Amadou Senegou(ph). We're told that he is a trainer of one of the military barracks, so it's not known Malian military leaders who have taken over. And they've taken over from someone who was a coup leader himself, the ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure.

And what the soldiers are saying, and they've been disgruntled now for two months since this rebellion broke out in the north, is that the government has not given them adequate weaponry, even food, to be able to take on the Tuareg fighters in the north. The defense minister went to try and talk to the soldiers and to try to parlay with them and to bring a peaceful solution to their grievances. It clearly backfired.

CORNISH: So where is the ousted president?

QUIST-ARCTON: We're being told that he is in a safe location and that he's being protected by loyalist soldiers. But what they're saying is that they have been trying to fight this rebellion now for two months. Many soldiers have been killed by the Tuareg rebels, who incidentally, apparently returned from Libya with sophisticated weaponry, weaponry that is better-equipped than the Malian army itself.

That the widows of the soldiers who have been killed have not received compensation and so there have been a whole lot of grievances. Meanwhile, the Tuareg rebels in the north have been gaining territory. They have taken over garrison towns, military barracks and are moving further and further south. So the situation in the north is very serious, coupled, of course, with this mutiny that has changed into a coup d'etat.

CORNISH: Now, the president was just a month away from leaving office anyway. I mean, how do you explain this coup in a country like Mali that's been considered one of Africa's more stable democracies?

QUIST-ARCTON: Many people are saying, isn't there a political motive to this? Is it just soldiers or are there some politicians behind this coup d'etat? Because, of course, President ATT as he's called, A-T-T, his initials, Amadou Toumani Toure was meant to leave after elections next month and he has presided over a decade of mostly stable and prosperous development in Mali.

But I think many people feel, and what the coup leaders are saying, is that he has handled this rebellion in an incompetent fashion and they say that it's not only the rebels they're fighting, but there is the terrorist threat, al-Qaida in the Sahara Desert area where the rebellion is happening, all these things the government and the president have mishandled.

CORNISH: Lastly, what's been the regional response to the unrest in Mali and what are the possibilities that this will be destabilizing to this part of west Africa?

QUIST-ARCTON: Regional governments have immediately denounced and condemned this coup. The regional bloc, ECOWAS, has said in the past that whatever the problems, they must be discussed across a table and that it will not tolerate any military takeovers. But talking more widely, you have the U.S. that has been assisting Mali with its military, it's had a military operation in the Sahara Desert region called Flintlock, helping the governments of neighboring Mauritania, Algeria and so on.

But some of the neighbors feel that Mali has not done enough to counter, perceived terrorism and I think that's one of the main reasons why although President Amadou Toumani Toure has received praise from the West and the region, that he has now fallen in this quite spectacular way.

CORNISH: Thank you so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, speaking to us from Dakar, Senegal.

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