BAMAKO - Mali appears to have averted a political impasse on Sunday when the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, released a statement confirming the signing of an accord with coup leaders, who agreed to the extension of the interim civilian president's mandate until elections can be held.
The soldiers who toppled Mali's elected leader on March 22 have agreed that interim president Diouncounda Traore will remain in place to lead the transition to civilian rule and organize elections.
The announcement appears to end weeks of wrangling between coup leaders and mediators from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, which has pushed hard for a return to civilian government.
ECOWAS chief negotiator, Burkina Faso's Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole, told reporters that the military government agreed to provisions set out by ECOWAS for the transition. He says mediators will remain in Bamako as long as it takes to work out the details to ensure that the country's institutions are stabilized and that all measures are adopted, so the transition can proceed smoothly.
No timetable was given for the transition. But ECOWAS has said previously that the interim government will remain in place for one year to organize elections.
As head of the National Assembly, Diouncounda Traore assumed the post of interim president April 12, after the military government signed its first accord with ECOWAS. His initial 40-day mandate, as prescribed by the Constitution, was set to expire on Tuesday.
Government leader Captain Amadou Sanogo had proposed that Mali hold a national convention to select a new leader for the transition - a plan some criticized as an effort to keep the military in power. ECOWAS responded by threatening to reimpose sanctions on government leaders, if they tried to block a return to civilian rule.
Sanogo did not speak during the ECOWAS announcement, but he later addressed the nation on state television.
Sanogo said an agreement has been reached in principle. He said there several accompanying measures to put in place and that the military government will remain in Bamako the time it takes to ensure that the institutions of the state are stabilized.
Asked whether he had a message for the country, Captain Sanogo said the military staged the coup d'état in the interest of the country and that they will continue to work for the preservation of Mali's territorial integrity.
The country is cut in two with the north in the hands of rebels and Islamist militants. In the chaos following the coup in late March, armed groups in the north quickly pushed south. Soldiers angry over the government's response to insecurity in the north overthrew the government in Bamako.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad declared the territory an independent state on April 5, while the Islamist group Ansar Dine rejected independence and instead began imposing its version of Sharia in northern towns.
ECOWAS officials say the crisis threatens the stability of the entire region. It says it is preparing 3,000 soldiers for deployment to Mali, if requested by the transitional government. But analysts say their mission would more likely focus on safeguarding the return to civilian rule in the capital.