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Politics

Mali's military want 'no foreign boots'

Mali was plunged deeper into chaos when Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra resigned just hours after he was arrested by soldiers acting on the orders of former coup leader Amadou Sanogo.

The enforced resignation of Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra has further complicated international efforts to help push Islamists from the north of the country. It also makes clear that coup leader Amadou Sanogo still wields considerable influence.

DW: Ayo Johnson, what is your assessment of these latest developments?

Ayo Johnson:There's no doubt that the prime minister was forced from office. The pressure was on, he was at loggerheads with the military junta members who felt he was taking the country in the wrong direction.They would have preferred there not to be any foreign boots on the ground in Mali and it would appear that the prime minister was very focused on ensuring that he had support from ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) who were prepared to send troops to assist the Mali forces to oust the rebel movement in the north, specifically the Tuareg rebels.

Why is former coup leader Amadou Sanago so opposed to this foreign military intervention in northern Mali?

I think one reason has to do with the fact that he feels that, if foreign troops were to put boots on the ground, it could lead to an insurgency of some description, an insurgency that would be somewhat similar to what we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other concern that he probably has would be the fact that it takes away their sovereignty from doing things their way, to show that they are a capable force.

A Tuarag fighter

Tuareg rebels have fought for years for greater autonomy in northern Mali

But the truth of the matter is they are not equipped, they are poorly trained, they have not been able to take the fight to theTuareg rebels in the past, which is why they say they carried out the coup in March out of frustration. And it would appear that the international community, especially the Americans and the French, are very keen to support them and to ensure that democracy is restored to the country as a whole.

Who is really in charge in Mali?

The military is in charge.The military continues to be in charge even though they gave the impression to the world that they had passed on powers to a transitional government that would lead to democracy. But the truth is that the speed with which they could force the prime minister out of office, and the fact that they are ordering the president to form a new government and get a new prime minister, the fact that they could literally ignore international will and determine that any kind of military intervention would be on their terms, all this is an indication that the military in Mali, especially that of Sanogo, is very much in control.

The last time there was a coup in Mali, the rebels used it to their advantage and made substantial territorial gains in the north. Is something similar going to happen this time round?

There's always a concern when you have a power vacuum, such as the one happening now. Law and order is always a problem and, like we saw previously, it wouldn't surprise us if Tuareg rebels were to take advantage of this vacuum and seize further territory, seeing as they are already supported by al-Qaeda forces which makes things very, very difficult indeed.

Is this new power vacuum going to have any impact on the planning for the ECOWAS intervention force?

One thing I can tell you is that one of the problems we have had with this so-called intervention force and the mandate by which it should operate was that (to put it mildly) the Americans and the French did not see eye to eye in terms of how they can implement this force.

Prime Minister Diarry announcing his resignation on state TV (Photo:ORTM Mali TV/AP/dapd)

Prime Minister Diarra announced his resignation on state television

The Americans wanted a stage-managed entry into a fight of some description against the Tuareg rebels, which would involve training the forces and putting a political process in place, whereas the French wanted the battle to ensue now, irrespective of how well equipped, how well trained, how prepared the ECOWAS forces were in terms of supporting such an attack. Moving forward, I would say there's no doubt that ECOWAS has a lot of concerns as to whether it can actually deliver. Previous history shows they have been an effective force in Sierra Leone and Liberia and, of course, it remains to be seen whether the international community would stand together on this moving forward, and also to what extent would the Malian forces be prepared to accept a retreat from their current position which is no boots on the ground. They are prepared to accept financial assistance, they are prepared to accept logistical support but foreign boots on the ground seems to be a difficult pill for them to swallow. I believe negotiations will be the way forward. The Americans and the French would place the juntas on the table of some description and draft a deal that would mean that the agreements already in place would work but not in the short term. I can't see anything happening this side of Christmas. It's going to take time for a new government to be put in place, it will take time to get a prime minister. And of course it will take time for all the logistics to be in place for a counter attack against the rebels and the al-Qaeda forces. So it's a delay but one that suits the American plan which asks for a longer time to prepare, a longer time for troops to be on the ground, further training - and a better plan.

Ayo Johnson is a specialist in African affairs and the founder of Viewpoint Africa.

Interview: Mark Caldwell

DW.DE