The internal crisis in the West Africa nation of Mali grew more chaotic early today when soldiers “arrested” the prime minister, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, and forced him to go on television at 4 a.m. and announce his resignation to the nation.
A spokesman for the military junta said Diarra, an astrophysicist who previously led one of NASA’s Mars exploration programs, was forced to resign because he “doesn’t get along” with the army captain who led a coup in March. Diarra was taken from his home, forced into a car and driven to the Kati military camp, the base from which the March 21 coup was launched.
“Our country is living through a period of crisis. Men and women who are worried about the future of our nation are hoping for peace,” Diarra said on television, his forehead glistening with sweat. “It’s for this reason that I, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government on this day, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. I apologize before the entire population of Mali.”
Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the planning for a European Union military training mission aimed at ousting Islamist insurgents who have seized northern Mali will proceed. He said the EU is watching the situation closely and hopes for the quick appointment of a new prime minister, so that Mali can have credible elections and the restoration of constitutional rule.
But Germany’s foreign minister indicated the arrest of Diarra may obstruct the plan.
“One thing is clear: our offers of help come with the condition that the process of restoring constitutional order in Mali be conducted credibly,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement. “And it is only that way that the crisis in northern Mali can be resolved.”
Westerwelle said President Dioncounda Traore and other political leaders “must now act responsibly so that Mali returns to stability.” But it’s unclear how the 70-year-old Traore will find the authority to return the nation to stability when a violent citizen’s movement which is believed to be backed by the junta in May broke through the security cordon at the presidential palace and severely beat Traore.
Last month, several countries in West Africa agreed on a plan to send 3,300 troops into Mali to stabilize the neighboring country and topple the Islamist extremists who are currently imposing a harsh form of sharia law on its citizens. But despite all the planning, no country has yet to intervene.
In October, President Obama sent U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Algeria to talk to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika about backing West African efforts to stop Al-Qaeda in the region.
According to Clinton, AQIM, the name of the al-Qaeda group, is working with other extremists to undermine democratic transitions in North Africa, and played a role in the September attack on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) held a summit to discuss the issue of Mali, with the group’s chairman saying it was ready to use force to “dismantle terrorist and transnational criminal networks.”
When the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic returned from Mali in October, he reported to the world community that Islamist militias had imposed a harsh version of Sharia law on the areas they controlled, drastically affecting the lives of women in particular. Mali residents in the north told him of forced marriages, forced prostitution, widespread rape, and women being sold as “wives” for less than $1,000.
Meanwhile, Bacary Mariko, the spokesman for the military junta, explained why they had taken the drastic step of arresting Diarra, the country’s prime minister.
“For several days now, Cheikh Modibo Diarra has mobilized his supporters and boycotted the national conference (currently being held to discuss Mali’s future),” Mariko told AP. “And now he says he’s going to Paris for medical tests … but we know better and realize that he is trying to flee in order to go and create a blockage in the Mali situation.”
Mariko claimed that Diarra was “not getting along” with the president or coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo.
“It’s the reason why Mali’s army has taken things into their own hands and told Cheikh Modibo Diarra to resign for the good of Mali,” Mariko said.
A police officer on duty Monday night at Bamako’s international airport said the same group that severely beat President Traore in May stormed the airport before the prime minister was about to fly to Paris.
“The plane that was to take the prime minister to France was on the point of departure,” said the officer, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. “It was stopped by people from the group Yerewoloton who invaded the airport. The people from Yerewoloton are still at the airport as we speak, searching cars.”
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said: “We condemn the circumstances in which Prime Minister Sheik Modibo Diarra was compelled to resign … the former junta must stop its interventions in the political affairs of the country.”
“These developments underline the need for the deployment of an African stabilization force,” Lalliot said.