WASHINGTON The U.S. State Department on Friday called on the officer who led a military coup in Mali in March to step aside and allow for the full return to civilian rule.
The State Department said the coup leaders had undermined democracy and hampered the West African nation's ability to respond to the humanitarian crisis in northern Mali.
"A strong, stable democratic government in Mali is essential in order for the country to deal successfully with its multiple economic, social and security challenges," the department said in a statement.
The military nominally handed over power to Dioncounda Traore in April, but the agreement runs out later this month.
Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led the coup, wants to take back power once Traore's 40-day mandate is up, aides said on Thursday.
The coup has left Mali diplomatically isolated and allowed a mix of separatist and Islamist rebels to seize all the main towns in the desert north, sweeping with them fighters linked to al Qaeda.
The State Department said it would maintain its sanctions against Sanogo, other coup leaders and the government of Mali until the military steps down and democracy is restored.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Peter Cooney)