BAMAKO – Leaders of Mali's military junta who deposed the West African country's president last month are meeting with political parties and civil society groups to outline a transition to a civilian government and, ultimately, elections.
The three-day conference beginning Thursday comes after regional leaders Monday warned the junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, that it must designate a transitional civilian head of state by next week or face further sanctions from the 15-nation West African regional bloc.
“I would like to renew our willingness to participate in the establishment of the architecture of the transition,” Col. Assimi Goita, the head of Mali's junta, said to open the meetings. “We are at an important turning point in our history. We must put aside our differences to lay the foundations for a reformed Mali.”
Goita and a group of mutinous soldiers forced Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign on Aug. 18. The junta has said it will facilitate a return to civilian rule, but no agreement has been reached on what civilian leader will lead the transition or when new elections will be held, despite repeated rounds of talks with domestic groups and regional leaders.
The West African regional bloc, known as ECOWAS, has said that by Sept. 15 the junta should have installed transitional civilian leaders, a president and prime minister, who will lead the country to elections within one year.
The military junta had previously proposed a three-year transition, saying that a new constitution should be written first.
The international and regional pressure for a quick transition is intended to avoid a protracted political crisis that could be taken advantage of by Mali's growing Islamic insurgency. An earlier military coup in Mali in 2012 led to a power vacuum that was exploited by jihadists, who managed to seize major towns in the north before France led a military intervention the following year to oust them.
Mali's main opposition coalition, known as M5, which held many protests against Keita that apparently encouraged the military officers to stage a coup, has also been in talks with the junta. Imam and opposition leader Mahmoud Dicko has urged them to find a solution and not be part of the problem.
Associated Press writers Carley Petesch and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.