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Future interim president meets with ruling junta

Latest update : 09/04/2012

Article text by NEWS WIRES

Dioncounda Traoré (right), the speaker of Mali's parliament and the man tipped to become interim president under a power transfer deal with the ruling junta, met for talks Monday with the army captain who led the March 22 coup.

AFP - Mali's coup leader held talks on Monday on when he would hand over power to allow the return of democratic rule in the troubled west African nation, now half controlled by Islamists and rebels.

Army Captain Amadou Sanogo, who seized power with other soldiers on March 22, met with the man set to be sworn in as Mali's interim president to oversee the transition back to constitutional rule.

Dioncounda Traore, who is currently Mali's speaker of parliament, met Sanogo in the presence of international mediators for about an hour at a military camp near the capital Bamako.

The March coup set off a sequence of events that saw the northern desert half of the vast and deeply impoverished nation fall to Tuareg rebels and their Islamist allies, triggering a major humanitarian crisis.

Sanogo told reporters the encounter "went well", adding that more information would be released soon.

"We established a framework" of focus points, said Ivory Coast African Integration Minister Adama Bictogo who, along with Burkina Faso's Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassole, is acting as mediator.

"No-one lost anything and no-one won anything," he added.

The meeting came the day after Amadou Toumani Toure, who was ousted in the coup, formally resigned Mali's presidency under the deal which also saw the lifting of sanctions that had been imposed by west African states.

Under the transition deal, Toure's departure means Sanogo must prepare to step down and allow for Traore to be sworn in as interim president, but it was not immediately clear exactly when that would happen.

Traore will be tasked with organising elections, if possible within 40 days.

Transitional authorities must address the situation in the north, which since the coup has been overrun by Tuareg rebels, outlaws and Islamic extremists who exploited the political and military disarray in Bamako.

An interim prime minister will also be appointed to head "a government of national unity", according to the terms of the deal which the West African ECOWAS bloc forced on Mali's military rulers in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

A Burkina Faso official said it was hoped the first cabinet meeting could be held before Friday.

Meanwhile the humanitarian crisis in the north, cut off from the rest of the world, was growing worse, witnesses and non-governmental organisations warned.

"The situation in the three northern region is dramatic. There are no more hospitals and hunger is growing... The international community must intervene," member of parliament Abdou Sidibe told AFP.

On the military front, ECOWAS is threatening to intervene to put down the northern rebellion by the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), which is said to comprise some 500 fighters, nearly all of them Arabs from the Timbuktu region.

The MNLA led by Tuareg rebels last week proclaimed the independence of the northern region they call Azawad, a move rejected by the international community as well as by the Islamist Ansar Dine, which controls some towns.

And an Al-Qaeda dissident group on Sunday claimed it was behind the kidnap of seven Algerian diplomats Thursday in the northern town of Gao.

The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) said it had seized the diplomats after rebels overran Gao, along with Kidal and and the legendary city of Timbuktu.

MUJAO in December also claimed the kidnap in October in Algeria of two Spaniards and one Italian aid workers.

MUJAO is said to have broken off from the main group, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in order to spread jihad to west Africa rather than confine themselves just to the Maghreb or Sahel regions.

The only French national present in Gao when it fell told Monday's edition of Le Figaro newspaper how she managed, with the help of local residents, to escape across the desert to Algeria.

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