Troops loyal to the ousted government of Mali have begun fighting with forces supporting the military junta in an apparent attempt to speed up the country's transition back to civilian rule.
Soldiers supportive of Mali's ousted president launched a countercoup attempt in Bamako on Monday, battling junta forces that took control of the capital six week ago, witnesses and a junta spokesman said.
"These are elements of the presidential guard from the old regime and they're trying to turn things around," Bacary Mariko, spokesman for the military junta, told the Reuters news agency. "We have the situation under control."
Mariko said the anti-junta soldiers were trying to take control of the airport so they could fly in troops with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has sharply condemned the March 21 coup.
Witnesses said pro- and anti-junta exchanged gunfire in Bamako. Yaya Konate, head of the state broadcaster, which has been under control of the junta since the coup, said soldiers arrived at the building Monday evening. He said the troops belonged to a group known as the Red Berets loyal to ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure.
ECOWAS backs up on deal
Six week ago, Malian military leaders seized power from Toure, criticizing him for his handling of an ethnic Tuareg rebellion in the country's north. ECOWAS signed a deal with coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo to return Mali to constitutional order, allowing the junta to maintain a supervisory role during the transition.
The agreement had the junta handing over power for 40 days to a civilian government before elections by the end of May. Former parliamentary speaker Dioncounda Traore was sworn in as interim president in April.
Leaders at an ECOWAS summit in Ivory Coast on Thursday reneged on part of that agreement, announcing plans to send ECOWAS troops to Mali to protect the offices of the president and prime minister. They also said the interim government should have up to 12 months to prepare for the elections.
Sanogo on Sunday condemned the ECOWAS statements and said the earlier agreement should be respected.
acb/ccp (AP, Reuters)