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Keep Calm - Taking world events in stride.

Mali coup leaders pledge to hand over power as Tuareg rebels take Timbuktu

Disarray following a March 21 coup has allowed Tuareg rebels to take over much of Mali's north. West African neighbors worry about spillover. 

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Mark Toner, the US State Department’s spokesman, condemned the coup and said that the US would back the efforts of West African leaders to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions on Mali until the coup leaders restore power to a civilian government.

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"We echo ECOWAS's call for the mutineers to step down and allow for a swift return to democratic rule and for presidential elections to ultimately take place," Mr. Toner said at a press conference in Washington over the weekend, referring to the regional group, the Economic Community for West African States.

For humanitarian agencies, the war and the dispersal of some 200,000 Malian civilians from their homes, couldn’t come at a worse time. Lower than usual rainfall and higher temperatures had created a drought that threatened the ability of a number of West African nations, including Mali, to feed themselves, and UN and private aid agencies were struggling to provide food for as many as 15 million affected people. Now conflict in Mali makes the emergency even more difficult to respond to.

“We are in a race against time and some of the harshest climatic conditions on the planet,” said John Ging, director of operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, after a recent visit to to Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.

New promises

A three-day deadline imposed by ECOWAS for coup leaders to step down passed on Sunday night. ECOWAS leaders are now studying coup leader Sanogo’s promise to hold elections soon.

On Sunday night, Sanogo promised that he would immediately reinstate the country’s 1992 constitution, effectively ending the broad military powers of a state of emergency. Sanogo also said he would create an interim team "with the aim of organizing peaceful, free, open and democratic elections in which we will not take part." He also said he would dispatch envoys to the north to negotiate a cease-fire with the Tuareg rebels.

For their part, the Tuareg fighters say that after the takeover of Timbuktu, their military mission is accomplished.

"Timbuktu was the final city to fall under our control," said Moussa Ag Assarid said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "In military terms, our mission has been accomplished."

But as the reported takeover of Timbuktu indicates, Tuareg fighters may not be in a negotiating mood. And as they advance across the north, one question emerges: How much of Mali will be left over for a new civilian government to control?

Keep Calm, a winking reference to the World War II slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On," aims to provide a bit of context to help make sense of confusing news events.

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