BAMAKO, Mali (AP) - In his first address to the nation since returning from his two-month-long exile, Mali's interim president on Sunday said that he "fully trusts" the army to assure his security, and outlined plans for the transitional government he hopes to lead until new elections can be held.
In May, the interim president Dioncounda Traore was beaten until he lost consciousness by a mob of protesters allied with the country's coup leader, who had just days earlier signed an agreement promising to relinquish power. The timing of the attack, and the fact that journalists present saw soldiers waving in the attackers who burst past the security cordon to assault Traore in his office, caused many to believe that the assault was carried out with the military's tacit approval.
Traore left on May 21 for medical treatment in Paris and returned last Friday, a long absence that was seen as a sign that he did not trust the military to guarantee his safety.
"I fully trust the Malian security service, specifically the Malian army. to assure the security of the president of the republic and the institutions of the republic," he told the nation in the Sunday evening newscast on state television.
The 70-year-old leader also outlined the shape of the interim government he will lead, an arrangement that comes after junior officers overthrew the nation's democratically elected president in March, just weeks before a planned presidential election. Traore said the country will be led by a High Council, consisting of himself and two vice presidents. One of the VPs will be in charge of a committee which will reform the army, as well as deal with the country's northern half, which was overrun by Islamic rebels in the wake of the coup.
The radical Islamic group Ansar Dine is now imposing a strict version of Shariah law in the areas under its control. Earlier this weekend, a man and woman accused of committing adultery were stoned to death in the northern town of Aguelhok, said Ansar Dine spokesman Sanda Abou Mohamed.
Traore said that a committee will also be set up to attempt to negotiate with the armed groups in the country's north. "This committee will be charged with engaging with the armed groups in the north of Mali, in order to speak of peace ... with the aim of finding via dialogue a negotiated political solution to the crisis."
Although Traore did not name Ansar Dine, the main Islamic group controlling the north, his statement appears to indicate that the government of Mali is prepared to engage in a dialogue with the al-Qaida-linked group.
His comments also come as the president of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara, told a French newspaper that Mali's neighbors would consider a military intervention within weeks to try to rout the Islamists in the north.
In the interview published Sunday in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, Ouattara, who also heads the body representing nations in West Africa, said that military intervention in Mali is "inevitable" within weeks, if the situation in northern Mali doesn't change.
Ouattara said that half the intervention force would be made up of Malian soldiers and would likely include soldiers from Niger, Nigeria and perhaps countries such as Chad _ with logistical help from France and the United States. He defined logistical help as material support and adviserss but added that combat aircraft are needed.
"If the situation doesn't evolve favorably and rapidly, yes, there will be a military intervention in Mali," Outtara said. "It seems inevitable." He added, "I think we can talk in weeks, not in months. There is urgency."
Associated Press writer Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.
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