Mutinous soldiers arrested Mali’s transitional president and prime minister on Monday, hours after a government reshuffle left out two members of the junta that seized power in a coup nine months earlier in the West African nation, the African Union said late in the day.
The African Union and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS called for the immediate release of President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane.
“They strongly condemn this extremely serious act, which can in no way be tolerated under the relevant provisions of ECOWAS and the African Union. They ask the military to return to their barracks,” said the statement attributed to the chairmen of the African Union and the regional group.
The developments raised new alarm about whether Mali’s transitional government would be able to move ahead freely with plans to organize new democratic elections as promised by next February.
The new Malian cabinet announced earlier Monday afternoon did not include Interior Security Minister Modibo Kone or Defence Minister Sadio Camara. No reason was given for their exclusion, but the move suggested division within the transitional government that is responsible for organizing new elections.
The U.S. Embassy in the capital of Bamako, meanwhile, said it had received “reports of increased military activity in Bamako.” It urged Americans there to limit their movements.
N’Daw and Ouane were sworn in last September after the ruling military junta agreed to hand over power to a civilian transitional government under growing international pressure.
The junta had grabbed power a month earlier after mutinous soldiers encircled the home of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and fired shots into the air. He later resigned on national television under duress, saying he did not want blood to be shed in order for him to stay in office.
Monday’s political developments marked the latest sign of strain on democracy in Mali, which has been battling an Islamic insurgency that gained hold after another military coup in 2012.
There has been widespread concern that the upheaval in Mali will further set back efforts to contain the militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State groups.
After the 2012 coup, Islamic extremists took control of major towns in northern Mali. Only a 2013 military intervention led by the former colonial power France pushed extremists out of those towns.
France and a United Nations force have continued to battle the extremist rebels, who operate in rural areas and regularly attack roads and cities.