April 19, 2012 / 11:25 PM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 1-Mali's military frees arrested officials

(Updates with confirmation by junta, Toure en route to Senegal)

BAMAKO, April 19 (Reuters) - Mali’s military has released all the senior political and army officials it arrested earlier this week, the army leaders behind last month’s coup said on Thursday.

Separately, neighbouring Senegal said Mali’s ousted former president, Amadou Toumani Toure, was on a plane heading for the capital Dakar. Senegal revealed this week that Toure been sheltering in its embassy in the Malian capital, Bamako. Toure fled his palace on March 22.

The arrests of 22 officials by security forces drew broad international condemnation just days after the junta that seized power in a coup officially stepped aside for a civilian leader.

Any derailment of Mali’s return to constitutional order would risk efforts by its neighbours to help Bamako try to retake northern regions seized by rebels since the coup.

“I can confirm that they have all been freed,” an official in the CNRDRE, the group that seized power in the coup, told Reuters, asking not to be identified.

A defence ministry source also confirmed that the officials, 11 civilians and 11 soldiers who were being held in the army town of Kati, just north of Bamako, had been released.

The release was later confirmed in a brief emailed statement released by the junta.

All those held were seen as close to Toure, who was due to step down before an April 29 election.

International organisations including the United Nations and the African Union on Wednesday condemned the wave of arrests. Politicians accused the military of not wanting to cede power.

A mix of separatist and Islamist rebels seized Mali’s three northern regions as government forces fighting on several fronts collapsed in the chaos that followed the coup.

The coup shattered Mali’s reputation for stability in an otherwise turbulent region and the retreat of government forces in the north stoked fears that groups linked to al Qaeda and international criminals will take advantage of a security void.

Ousted President Toure had come under criticism abroad and at home for failing to tackle the growing insecurity in its largely desert north, an area larger than France.

Senegalese President Macky Sall said this week Toure had most recently been sheltering at its embassy in Mali. A presidential spokesman said he was due in Dakar late on Thursday.

“It was President Sall who organised his passage to Dakar,” spokesman Abou Abel Thiam said by telephone. (Reporting by David Lewis and Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako; Diadie Ba in Dakar; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Louise Ireland and Doina Chiacu)

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