- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2020

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - A United Nations human rights expert on Wednesday urged Mali’s junta to release former government officials they have held since a coup d’etat on Aug. 18.

The call by Alioune Tine, U.N. independent expert on human rights in Mali, came as a mediator for the West African regional economic bloc arrived in the country to discuss a transition government named earlier this week and that will be installed Friday.

Former defense minister and retired Col. Maj. Bah N’Daw will be inducted as the transitional president while the head of the junta, Col. Assimi Goita, will be the transitional vice president.

The junta, which calls itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August, detaining him, the prime minister and other government officials. Keita, who became ill, was eventually released and has gone to the United Arab Emirates for treatment.

There has been widespread concern that the upheaval in Mali will set back efforts to contain the country’s growing Islamic insurgency. After a similar coup in 2012, Islamic extremists grabbed control of major towns in northern Mali.

Only a 2013 military intervention led by France pushed extremists out of those towns and the international community has spent seven years battling the militants.

Tine said 13 of the 18 detained officials are still being held at the Kati military camp in the Malian capital of Bamako.

“There is no legal basis for detention of the former prime minister, the former president of the National Assembly, and other former Malian officials taken into custody in the coup d’état,” Tine said, calling on the junta to comply with international human rights obligations and release the officials immediately and unconditionally.

Tine’s call for their release follows that of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. Secretary General, António Guterres, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, whose mediator - former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan - arrived in Bamako Wednesday. The bloc made Keita’s release a key demand as they have negotiated a return to a civilian government.

“I am extremely concerned by the fact that those arrested by the coup leaders have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty for more than a month,” Tine said.

Their detention continues as Goita, who helped lead the coup, promised Tuesday to construct a “new” Mali.

The 15-nation ECOWAS had come to an agreement with the junta for the future of Mali. It was unclear Wednesday what the bloc’s reaction would be to Goita’s appointment as vice president, though they made clear that the vice president would not be able to step in for the transitional president.

Already the regional group has closed borders to Mali and stopped financial flows to the country in the wake of the coup. It has made it clear that sanctions would only be lifted if a civilian president and prime minister were named, and the CNSP dissolved. A prime minister will likely not be named until after Friday’s ceremony.

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