BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Malian authorities have arrested an army colonel and a group of soldiers whom they believe were behind the recent unrest at the military camp where last year's coup began, a spokesman said Thursday.
The chaos at the Kati camp on Monday has raised fears about the stability of the Malian army at a time when it has come under renewed attack in the north from ethnic Tuareg separatist rebels.
Among those taken into custody on Thursday is Col. Youssou Traore, who has long had a fraught relationship with former coup leader Amadou Sanogo, now the highest-ranking official in the Malian military after a serendipitous promotion.
Traore was arrested around 11 a.m. and a dozen other soldiers are now in custody, according to Lt. Mohamed Bou Coulibaly, a spokesman for Sanogo. About a half dozen others are still on the run, including Capt. Amadou Konare, a former spokesman for the junta that seized power last year.
"The mask has fallen, and Col. Youssouf Traore and Capt. Amadou Konare were the instigators of last Monday's mutiny," Coulibaly said. "They pushed the subordinate soldiers to commit mutiny."
There was no immediate reaction from either of the chief suspects in Monday's violence, when witnesses said disgruntled soldiers stormed an office at the Kati camp, shooting an army colonel and holding him hostage for hours.
New President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a visit to France after the violence, which came alongside reports of gunfire between Malian soldiers and ethnic Tuareg rebels in the country's far north region of Kidal. In an address to the nation on television Wednesday night, Keita described the Kati uprising as "shameful."
"I cannot tolerate indiscipline or anarchy in any case," he said, adding: "Kati will not create fear for Bamako."
Monday's unrest was an ironic twist of fate for Sanogo, who himself launched a coup from the same Kati military barracks about 18 months ago. That group of mutinous soldiers cited discontent with the way the Malian army was conducting the fight against Tuareg separatists in the north. Army casualties were growing amid reports that soldiers lacked the sufficient weaponry for battle.
This week, the now Gen. Sanogo came under threat from soldiers who said they had not received the promotions they had been promised. A group of five men burst into the office of Col. Mohamed Elhabib Diallo on Monday morning, firing into the air and taking him hostage. The angry soldiers accused Diallo of removing their names from the lists of candidates receiving higher titles and shot and wounded him.
One witness described the assailants as armed with grenades and ammunition belts "like Rambo."
Soon the soldiers began calling other military camps around Bamako, urging soldiers who also had been denied promotions to join them at Kati.
By 8 p.m., Sanogo finally agreed to meet with the angry soldiers. Unsatisfied with his response, though, the disgruntled hostage-takers next persuaded the country's new defense minister to visit the camp and hear their appeals.
"He told them that their message had been heard, that they should free Col. Diallo and await the arrival of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Tuesday," said an official in the Defense Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters. Diallo was later released between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., witnesses said.