At least 10 Malian soldiers were killed in an overnight ambush in the country's volatile central region near the Mauritanian border, security and local sources said Friday. The deaths came as Mali’s junta faces pressure from political and civil society leaders ahead of weekend talks to hammer out a transition plan.
According to an internal security ministry report, 10 soldiers were killed in the attack, including a senior officer, and four vehicles were torched.
An elected official from the Guire region confirmed the toll. "In the night, shots prevented us from sleeping, it looked like bombs, our houses were shaking," the official told AFP by phone.
A local administrator speaking on condition of anonymity said men on motorcycles had been in the area since Monday.
Four Malian soldiers were killed and 12 others wounded on August 27 in a jihadist ambush near the central town of Mopti, before the army killed 20 enemy fighters, it said. The army said it also suffered major equipment losses.
Five days earlier, four soldiers were killed when their vehicle was hit by a bomb in central Mali, a volatile, ethnically-diverse region that has been badly affected by the jihadist revolt.
News of the latest deaths came as Malian political and civil society leaders head for talks on Saturday in the capital Bamako and other cities to hammer out a transition plan following the August 18 coup that toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
Honeymoon over for junta
After seizing power to widespread acclaim last month, Mali's junta has faced a reality check with regional and international powers calling for a quick return to civilian rule and local politicians and teachers' unions criticising the junta’s handling of the transition process so far.
On August 18, cheering crowds poured into the streets to welcome the ouster of Keïta who was criticised for failing to address militia violence, alleged high-level corruption and a faltering economy.
The junta, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), now faces pressure to show it can do better – a challenge made more difficult by economic sanctions imposed by West African neighbours after the coup.
The first sign the honeymoon might be over came last weekend when the coalition that led protests against Keïta before the coup – and enthusiastically welcomed the military's intervention – blasted the CNSP for not having invited its leaders to preliminary talks about the transition.
"Today, everyone has doubts about them," said Issa Kaou Ndjim, one of the protest leaders. "The CNSP needs to accept that they must talk with the people."
‘We want the nice speeches to end’
Then, on Thursday, teachers' unions, which have been striking this year over pay demands, accused the CNSP of misleading the public in comments about salary negotiations and said its actions were reminiscent of Keita's government.
In Bamako, many people are hopeful Keïta's overthrow will lead to needed reforms but are also sceptical of lofty promises from their leaders.
"We Malians want concrete actions that can lead to real change," said Adama Dara, a civil servant. "We want the nice speeches to end in order to initiate the change that we hope for so strongly."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)