- Associated Press - Monday, March 26, 2012

The Obama administration Monday cut off American aid to the government of Mali after last week’s coup by soldiers, saying military and other assistance would only resume when the African country’s democratic government is restored.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. humanitarian and food assistance will continue for Mali’s impoverished citizens. But she said military and other programs have been suspended.

“This is an unacceptable situation where democracy is being undermined in Africa, and it’s got to be restored,” Ms. Nuland told reporters.

The U.S. provides about $140 million in annual assistance to the African country, and Ms. Nuland said almost half of that total could be affected by the action.

Soldiers in Mali, led by a middle-ranking U.S.-trained officer, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, surrounded the presidential palace Wednesday and announced they were taking power in the West African country.

Mali had scheduled elections in April. Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure had planned to step down after this term, but he has not been heard from since the coup.

Mali had long been held up as an African example of a thriving democracy. But soldiers said they were overthrowing the government because it had mishandled an ethnic insurgency in the north of the country.

Ms. Nuland said the U.S. hasn’t determined that a coup has taken place, instead referring to it as a “mutiny.”

Under U.S. law, all non-humanitarian aid must be suspended if the administration finds that a military coup has overthrown a democratically elected government. Such a declaration also requires a series of steps — such as new elections — before military and other assistance programs can be resumed.

By stopping short of calling it a coup, the administration can more quickly respond if Mr. Toure’s government returns to power. One major program the U.S. doesn’t want to jeopardize involves funding to help Mali organize its planned elections next month.

The administration is hoping West African mediators can deliver a speedy resolution to the crisis.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke by telephone Monday with Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, rotating head of the West African body trying to negotiate a settlement. U.S. officials are also in discussions with the coup leader Capt. Sanogo, Ms. Nuland said.

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