BAMAKO Mali's soldiers have arrested senior allies of ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure, aides to those officials said on Tuesday, in an overnight sweep that could complicate efforts to fully restore civilian rule.
The leaders of the March 22 coup have formally handed power to an interim president but hold sway in the capital Bamako while talks continue to form a government to run the West African country until elections can be held.
Those arrested include former Prime Minister Modibo Sidibe, ex-Defense Minister Sadio Gassama, Toure's ex-chief of staff, General Amadou Cissoko, and Bani Kante, a businessman who advised Toure on Libya's investments in the country.
"Modibo was arrested at his home by military police around 11:00 pm on Monday evening, the three others were arrested later," said an aide to Sidibe. The former prime minister has already been arrested and released twice since last month's coup.
Separately, a government source said military officers had also been detained as part of 10 arrests overall. It was not immediately known who the arrested military officers were.
A third source said they were being held at the barracks just outside Bamako which the junta has made its headquarters.
There was no comment from the junta on why the arrests had been made. Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo issued a statement on state television late on Monday saying only that the military was targeting several "cases" it would pass on to the judiciary.
Toure himself is at an undisclosed location in Mali.
Last month's coup emboldened Tuareg-led separatist rebels to seize the northern half of the country, which they covet as their homeland. But their secession bid has been widely ignored and they are now jostling for control of the zone with Islamists whose goal is to impose sharia, Islamic law, across Mali.
Mass pillaging of food stocks and other necessities during the rebel advance has exacerbated the plight of locals already facing a food crisis following a drought in the Sahel zone on the southern rim of the Sahara.
Civil rights groups have cited widespread anecdotal reports of abuses of the local population including rapes and killings.
With Mali's own army in disarray, neighboring countries in the 15-state ECOWAS grouping have signaled they are ready to send troops, but only with a mandate to prevent further rebel advances rather than win back lost territory.
In theory, interim President Dioncounda Traore has 40 days to organize new elections, but many observers say the lack of security in the north will make a vote impossible in that time frame.
An accord between ECOWAS and Sanogo setting out the transition to civilian rule gives the coup's leader a say in key parts of the process, notably the naming of an interim prime minister.
(Reporting by Adama Diarra and David Lewis; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)