Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mali: Leadership Change Rocks Mali

Nouakchott — The prime minister's exit should not impede the European Union plan to train the Malian army, locals say.

One day after the European Union announced plans for a large-scale military training mission in Mali, Interim President Dioncounda Traoré on Tuesday (December 11th) named Diango Cissoko as the country's new prime minister.

"The priority is the recovery of the north and the organisation of elections.... I want to create a government of national unity," Cissoko told AFP. "I want to tell Malians that they must get together, because it's only a unified people that can confront their problems."

The appointment of the 62-year-old ombudsman came hours after former Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra appeared on national television to announce his exit from the government.

Diarra offered no explanation for the move. His resignation, however, came after some 20 supporters of Captain Amadou Sanogo, the leader of the March 22nd Mali coup, arrested him at his Bamako home on Monday night.

The official spokesman for the former military junta immediately denied suggestions that Diarra's departure indicated another possible coup.

"There has been no coup, and there is no need to fear," Bakary Mariko told France 24 on Tuesday.

Others are less certain.

"We hope that this incident won't affect the course of negotiations," National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) official Nina Walet Ntalou told Magharebia.

"We've repeatedly said that we want conditions in Mali to be stable so we can negotiate with a recognised government that meets the desires of all Malians," she said.

While internal politics may be in flux following Diarra's abrupt exit, the ministerial change is unlikely to interfere with the European Union's plan to train the Malian army, Bamako reporter Baba Ahmed said.

On Monday, the EU announced that it would send a 400-member mission, including 250 trainers, to "improve the capacity of Malian Armed Forces in order to allow, under civilian authority, the restoration of the country's territorial integrity".

"The presence of terrorist groups and the oppression of local populations in the north of Mali, as well as human rights violations, not only pose a grave threat to the Sahel region, but also to North Africa and to Europe," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in Brussels.

European military expertise, Ashton added, "can help Malians restore the rule of law and re-establish a fully sovereign democratic government with authority throughout the country".

The 15-month operation will prepare four battalions for military action against the al-Qaeda and MUJAO occupiers in northern Mali. Thousands of troops will be trained near Segou, 250 kilometres north of Bamako.

"The presence of terrorist groups and the oppression of local populations in the north of Mali, as well as human rights violations, not only pose a grave threat to the Sahel region, but also to North Africa and to Europe," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in Brussels.

European military expertise, Ashton said, "can help Malians restore the rule of law and re-establish a fully sovereign democratic government with authority throughout the country".

"This step will restore hope to Malians, who started to feel despair due to the many promises and repeated talk about international support," Malian journalist Moussa Coulibaly told Magharebia.

The EU initiative can help his country "overcome internal differences and conflicts to build an army for the state, not for groups, which is a prerequisite for the liberation of northern Mali from the terrorists", he said.

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