(AFP) – West African leaders Tuesday extended a deadline for Mali to form a unity government and wrest back its north from rebel hands as Amnesty warned it could slide into human rights chaos.
Mediators from the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc granted Mali’s interim rulers at least 10 more days to form a unity government. The original deadline expired on Tuesday.
The extension came as condemnation poured in over the execution by stoning of an unmarried couple by hardline Islamists whose four-month occupation of the vast desert north has split the impoverished west African nation in two.
Amid the worsening atrocities in the north, Amnesty also warned of troubling rights violations in the capital Bamako, by soldiers loyal to the ex-junta.
“Mali must halt its slide into human rights chaos and open investigations into dozens of cases of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and torture documented by Amnesty International,” the London-based group said in a statement.
West African mediators had given Mali until Tuesday to form a unity government or face sanctions, as they ran out of patience with Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra’s government’s inability to deal with the crises.
Diarra’s interim government was set up in April to take over from the junta which seized power on March 22.
The astrophysicist was in charge for two months as interim President Dioncounda Traore recovered in Paris from a savage attack by opponents to his appointment.
Traore’s absence was marked by a deepening of the crisis in the north, and loss of faith in Diarra, with key political parties accusing him of “amateurishness and incompetence” and calling for his resignation.
“With the new situation marked by the return of Traore who has taken things in hand again, there will be no sanctions against Mali after the date of July 31,” an African diplomat based in Bamako told AFP.
He said Traore would be granted “at least 10 days” more to form the unity government. The extension was confirmed by a source at the presidency.
Traore returned to Bamako on Friday and on Sunday announced a raft of measures, including new transition bodies, to attempt to tackle the crisis, putting himself in charge of negotiations to form a unity government.
He also created a High Council of State of which he would be in charge and a committee to negotiate with the Islamists.
ECOWAS wants to send a 3,000-strong military force to Mali but is waiting for United Nations approval and a formal request from a more inclusive government in Bamako.
Once one of the region’s stable democracies, Mali has crumbled into despair in half a year.
The hardline Islamists who occupied the vast north in the chaos following the coup have tightened control over the area, on Sunday dragging an umarried couple to the centre of the town of Aguelhok for a public stoning.
They were placed in holes and stoned to death in front of about 200 people.
It was the first reported execution according to strict sharia law since the occupation.
Mali’s government on Tuesday expressed horror at the “dark-age practice”, vowing it would not go unpunished.
The European Union demanded action to stop such acts with its top diplomat Catherine Ashton insisting “on the need to put an end to such barbarism and to respect fundamental, universally-recognised human rights.”
The small town of Aguelhok is controlled by the Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) allied with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which is also present in the Kidal region.
The extremists occupied the main cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao in late March in the chaos following the coup in Bamako.
In Timbuktu Ansar Dine has imposed sharia, and destroyed ancient World Heritage sites seen as idolatrous.
Rights group Amnesty International condemned the “gruesome and horrific act of stoning.”
In a separate report Amnesty, detailed brutal abuses committed by soldiers loyal to the ex-junta against loyalists who had attempted a counter-coup on April 30, saying they were subject to torture and sexual abuse.