BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Malian soldiers forcibly took the military strongman who led last year's coup from his home in the capital Wednesday to see a judge investigating allegations of killings by the junta leader, according to two officials briefed on the matter.
The development indicates that the government of Mali's newly elected president is not afraid to stand up to Gen. Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led the March 2012 coup and is accused of systematically torturing and executing soldiers who questioned his grip on power. Despite stepping down and handing control to a civilian administration, Sanogo remained a powerful force in Mali for much of 2012, and many believe he was calling the shots. This August, the country held its first election since the coup, electing a new leader, and in a move applauded by rights groups, the administration has not shied away from confronting Sanogo.
On Oct. 31, a judge issued a summons calling for Sanogo to present himself before the court in order to answer questions regarding his alleged role in the abuses. Sanogo repeatedly failed to show up. Meanwhile, the judge who had issued the summons reportedly received death threats, and was given a security detail for his protection.
"It was the Minister of Defense Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga who sent soldiers to the residence of Gen. Sanogo in order to escort the general so that he could answer the judge's summons. This is all I know for the moment," said Sanogo's spokesman, Lt. Mohamed Boua Coulibaly, by telephone on Wednesday afternoon.
An officer with the gendarmerie, the country's paramilitary police which is tasked with investigating cases of military abuse, confirmed that Sanogo had been brought to the judge. He could not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Most Malians had never heard of Sanogo last spring, when a mutiny broke out at a military garrison, located just miles from the presidential palace. The rioting rank-and-file soldiers asked Sanogo, then an army captain, to be their leader, and together they marched on the palace, ending two decades of democracy in a matter of hours. The country's elected leader fled, and Sanogo named himself president. Although he was forced to step down just weeks later, he still held the reins of power, and the country's transitional leaders were afraid to cross him.
Last May, protesters allied with Sanogo broke through the security cordon at the presidential compound, and beat interim leader Dioncounda Traore. He was brought to the hospital unconscious, and demonstrators were seen hoisting his bloody tie and shoe in celebration. Although Sanogo denied involvement in the attack, it was seen by many as Sanogo's reminder to the country's civilian administration of who was really in charge.
Soldiers that didn't bow to him were picked up, tortured and killed, according to Human Rights Watch. Victims were tied up, beaten with sticks and gun butts, kicked in the head, ribs and genitals, stabbed in their extremities, and burned with lighters, according to the rights group. Witnesses who were among the last people to see the disappeared men alive — including a group of 20 soldiers picked up on May 2, 2012 — said they saw them being loaded onto trucks, their eyes covered. The mother of one of the missing men told Human Rights Watch that her son made one last phone call to her, saying the soldiers holding him were arguing among themselves about whether or not to kill him.
Among the perks Sanogo was able to secure for himself before fading from the limelight was the salary of an ex-head of state, estimated at more than $8,000 per month, as well as the rank of general.
"The Malian judge and judiciary have shown that no one, not even a four star general, is above the law. This is a very encouraging step for the victims of the alleged crimes committed by those loyal to Sanogo and for Mali's struggle to address the culture of impunity," said Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, who has led 10 missions to Mali to investigate allegations of abuse since the start of the country's crisis.
Callimachi contributed from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press staffer Jerome Delay in Bamako also contributed to this report.