By Serge Daniel
Bamako (AFP) – Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra resigned on Tuesday, hours after influential former coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo ordered soldiers to arrest him at his home.
The ex-junta claims the move was not a coup, however Diarra’s resignation plunges further into crisis a troubled nation which had over half its territory seized by Islamic extremists after Sanogo ousted its government in March.
Giving no reason for his decision, a solemn and drawn Diarra announced he and his regime, which was set up as an interim authority following the putsch, would step down.
“I, Cheick Modibo Diarra, resign with my government,” Diarra said in a brief speech given at the premises of national broadcaster ORTM which aired it.
The 60-year-old astrophysicist and former chairman of Microsoft Africa thanked his supporters and expressed the hope that “the new team” would succeed in their task.
His message was delivered hours after a source in his entourage said the prime minister had been arrested by about 20 soldiers who said “Captain Sanogo sent them to arrest him.”
Earlier Diarra had cancelled a trip to Paris for a medical check-up after he discovered his baggage had been removed from the plane.
President Dioncounda Traore had yet to announce whether he had accepted the resignation, as Diarra remained under house arrest in the capital.
“The prime minister is under house arrest. He can’t see who he wants or go where he wants. There are soldiers at his house and he is not free to move around,” a member of his family told AFP.
Banks, shops and petrol stations opened as normal in Bamako, with no sign of soldiers on the streets. However several official buildings have been placed under the surveillance of paramilitary police.
A spokesman for Sanogo’s former junta in Europe, Bakary Mariko, told France 24 television the sequence of events was “not a new coup d’etat”
Mariko said Diarra was “not a man of duty” and added that a successor will “be named in the coming hours by the president.”
Sanogo emerged from obscurity to lead a military junta on 22 March which ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure’s government only six weeks before an election marking the end of his time in office.
The move came amid mounting anger by soldiers at their rout by Tuareg separatists, better equipped than the military as they waged a rebellion to conquer the north and declare independence for a homeland which they call Azawad.
While an interim government was set up weeks later, Sanogo and his men have retained considerable influence.
“Since March Sanogo and his men have been implicated in a steady stream of abuses,” Human Rights Watch researcher Corinne Dufka told AFP, naming disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests, and intimidation of journalists.
“Not one of these incidents has been properly investigated. Instead Sanogo was rewarded with a high-level government post to reform the armed forces,” she said, adding Diarra’s arrest represents “another step backward for Mali.”
As Bamako remained fragile in the wake of the coup, the Tuareg, allied with Islamists, continued their juggernaut, seizing the northern triangle of the bow-tie shaped nation, an area larger than France.
However the unlikely alliance between the secular separatists and Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists quickly crumbled and the Tuareg were driven out of key positions, leaving the vast arid zone in the hands of extremists.
The former premier was a staunch advocate of plans to send in a west African intervention force to drive out the extremists, who are running the zone according to their brutal interpretation of sharia Islamic law.
Citizens have been flogged, had their hands amputated and been stoned to death as punishments for transgressions.
Such foreign intervention is fiercely opposed by Sanogo.
West African nations are pressing hard for the United Nations Security Council to approve a French-backed plan for military intervention. Germany and the United States have offered training and logistical support.
But misgivings are rife over the plan to send in 3,300 west African troops. Many of Mali’s neighbours still prefer a negotiated solution and both the UN and US have urged caution and demanded more detail on the force’s capabilities.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice last week argued that the west African troops would be ill-suited for battle against the Islamist groups who are masters of the desert.