SA officials stranded in Mali after coup

2012-03-24 14:26

Three South African government officials are stranded in a Bamako hotel with South African embassy officials following a military coup which toppled Malian president Amadou ­Toumani Toure on Wednesday.

The SA government and embassy officials are holed up in the 5-star Radisson Hotel in Bamako.

Toure has gone into hiding.

Following the coup the African ­Union (AU) kicked Mali out of the ­organisation on Friday, while the ­African Development Bank and World Bank suspended funds and the European Union suspended ­development operations.

The coup took place one day after the African Union Peace and Security Council had its meeting in the Malian capital.

During the meeting South Africa pledged to help combat the humanitarian crisis that has been exacerbated by the unexpected return of economic migrants and the internal displacement of thousands of its citizens due to the Arab Spring, especially in Libya.

South Africa promised 45 886 tons of millet and sorghum, 14 500 tons of animal feed, veterinary products and licking stone for livestock, nutritional care for babies aged six months to two years and 35 000 tons of rice. Similar contributions were announced for Niger, Mauritania and Chad.

The pledges are part of a food-for-votes-campaign by South Africa to secure the votes from these countries during the AU commission chairperson elections in June.

Said an official: “Everyone knows in life nothing is for free, they must know we expect them to vote for us.”

South African officials who did not travel with Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane were scheduled to be on a flight to Nairobi, which never took off because rebels closed the airport.

According to officials in Pretoria their colleagues in Bamako were safe, but there is no indication when they were due back home.

“They are stuck with no money, and they can’t go out. We don’t know when they’ll be able to come back,” an official said.

Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim told ­reporters this week the situation was not dire enough for South Africa to evacuate embassy officials.

Mali was due for elections in April, but mutineers started firing gunshots on Wednesday night and chased Toure out of his presidential palace.

The soldiers were, according to reports, angered by what they saw as Toure’s poor handling of a northern rebellion.

But Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, aiming to capitalise on the confusion in the distant capital, pushed south to occupy positions abandoned by government forces, sources told Reuters.

Captain Amadou Sanogo, the head of a body set up by the mutineers, suggested on Thursday that soldiers were trying to arrest Toure, but it is assumed he is protected by loyal soldiers at a hideout in the ­capital city.

Xinhau news agency reported that AU commission chairperson Jean Ping has initiated a number of consultations with the AU chairperson president Thomas Yayi Boni of Benin, the Economic Community Of West African States Commission and other actors to enhance the effectiveness of Africa’s response to the events in Mali, with a view to preserving constitutional order.

Spearheaded by former president Thabo Mbeki, South Africa funded a state-of-the-art facility to house and preserve the Timbuktu Manuscripts – priceless ancient documents which are thought to hold the key to some of the secrets of Africa’s history and cultural heritage.

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