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Mali's former coup leader starts hunger strike over detention

Source: Reuters - Thu, 20 Mar 2014 11:07 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Sanogo held over disappearance of paratroopers during coup

* Lawyer says Sanogo cut off from family, lacks medical care

BAMAKO, March 20 (Reuters) - The leader of a military coup that plunged Mali into chaos two years ago and allowed Islamists to seize its desert north has started a hunger strike to protest against the conditions of his detention, legal and military sources said on Thursday.

General Amadou Sanogo was arrested and charged with complicity in kidnapping last November with regard to the disappearance during the 2012 coup of dozens of paratroopers loyal to toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure.

Authorities have discovered 30 bodies, some of them in military uniforms, in mass graves near the headquarters of the coup leaders at the military barracks in the town of Kati, just outside the capital Bamako.

Sanogo is protesting over his transfer to the lakeside town of Selingue, 150 km (90 miles) south of Bamako. His lawyer said this had left him cut off from his family and legal advisers, deprived him of medical care and placed him in danger.

"He is going to observe a hunger strike and also to abstain from medical treatment," Harouna Toure told Reuters.

A military source close to the general confirmed that he had begun a hunger strike on Wednesday.

Selingue, which lies near the border with Guinea and is the site of one of Mali's largest hydroelectric dams, is a popular tourist destination in the West African country.

Thirty-two Malian soldiers arrested with Sanogo in November have been released after they began a hunger strike in January to protest against the conditions of their detention.

While the 2012 coup drew international condemnation, it was welcomed by many ordinary Malians who were tired of years of widespread graft and political deadlock.

Sanogo himself was popular with many Malians, though subsequent allegations of rights abuses and graft under the junta have dented his reputation.

The government of President Ibrahima Boubacar Keita, elected last August, is under pressure to restore the state's authority over the army and to root out pockets of remaining Islamist rebels in the north. A French-led military intervention last year helped break the Islamists' grip over the desert region.

General Yamoussa Camara, a former defence minister during the military rule, and three other senior junta officials were arrested in February in connection with the investigation. They are being held in separate locations around Mali. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Gareth Jones)

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