US urges Mali junta to step down

2012-03-31 07:31

Washington - The United States said on Friday it was "very concerned" about rebel advances in Mali and urged soldiers who seized control of the African nation last week to step down.

Washington firmly supported diplomacy by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which Thursday gave the coup leaders an ultimatum to step down within three days or face an economic and diplomatic embargo.

"We echo Ecowas' call for the mutineers to step down and allow for a swift return for democratic rule and for presidential elections ultimately to take place," state department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters.

Asked about advances by Tuareg rebels and an allied Islamist group, Toner said: "We are very concerned about this."

Disgruntled troops swarmed the capital Bamako on March 22 and chased out of power President Amadou Toumani Toure, accusing him of failing to offer sufficient supplies to the army to put down the long-running Tuareg rebellion.

Toner recognised that the troops had grievances but noted they had not responded in a "productive way".

"If these mutineers are so concerned, then why are they occupied with events in Bamako rather than pressing the fight against the Tuaregs in the north of Mali?" Toner said.

Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo on Friday appealed for help from abroad after Tuareg and Islamist fighters seized the strategic town of Kidal, where residents said that the army put up no resistance.

The United States has suspended tens of millions of dollars in aid to Mali over the coup, which took place just weeks before April 29 elections were set to end Toure's tenure peacefully.

Asked about further US steps, Toner said: "We still believe there's time for this reverse itself and for democratic rule to return to Mali and for elections to take place."

The United States, however, has maintained humanitarian assistance. It announced Thursday $120m in emergency aid to prevent a feared famine in Mali and neighboring countries Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger.

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