Mali leader returns to a nation in crisis
Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore returned to Bamako on Friday amid tight security. He stayed for two months in Paris for medical treatment after he was attacked by a mob in his office.
“I forgive my attackers,” the 70-year-old said at Bamako airport, as he landed late Friday afternoon in the west African nation, which is in a worse state of crisis than when he left it.
“The Malian people are going through a very difficult period, starved for unity. I will apply myself to that,” Traore said, adding that he would address the nation on Sunday.
Armed, masked men kept watch on roofs to secure Traore’s arrival. He was greeted at the airport by embattled Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, who is facing calls for his resignation from the main political parties.
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Ex-junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led a March 22 coup which plunged the previously stable democracy into crisis, was also present.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Traore’s return “represents an important step in moving Mali back onto a path leading to the restoration of a freely elected democratic government.”
The United States called on all “parties to draw on the Malian tradition of consensus, tolerance, and good will to form an effective unity government by July 31, 2012,” she added in a statement.
Traore said he was getting “better every day” after suffering a head injury when a mob of protesters against his appointment burst into his office on May 21 and beat him. He has been recovering in Paris ever since.
“As you can see, I am doing very well,” he said.
Lots of work ahead
The interim president has a heavy workload awaiting him. Hardline Islamists have strengthened their hold on the vast desert north of Mali, which they seized after the coup. The interim government which took over from the junta has proved powerless to deal with the occupation.
Traore also faces the continued influence of ex-junta leader Sanogo, who has been accused by the African Union of meddling in political affairs, and by rights bodies of overseeing torture and enforced disappearances.
Prime Minister Diarra, who has worked for NASA and was also the Microsoft chairman for Africa, is the son-in-law of Moussa Traore who became president of Mali after ousting a previous regime and ruled for 23 years until 1991. Many in Mali see him as too close to the former putschists led by Sanogo.
Traore’s main concern will be reuniting a country which has been effectively split in two by Islamists acting under the aegis of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, who are in control of an area larger than France.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the current rotating head of ECOWAS, said on Thursday he hoped for a resolution “in the coming days” on an eventual military intervention in northern Mali.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Friday his country was prepared to act as a “facilitator” in efforts to end the crisis. He underlined that Mali needed to first restore security in the south, through the unity government, before turning to the north.
Fabius said that if the armed groups in the north refused dialogue, African forces must act “in a secure manner on the basis of international arrangements”.