BAMAKO, Mali — Soldiers arrested Mali’s prime minister and forced him to resign before dawn on Tuesday, showing that the military remains the real power in this troubled West Africa nation, even though officers made a show of handing back authority to a civilian-led government after a coup in March.
The development underscores the deep volatility at the heart of the once-stable nation of Mali, and reveals the rotten core which is its military.
The events come at the very moment that the United Nations is considering backing a military intervention, which would use these same soldiers to spearhead an operation to take back Mali’s north from Islamic extremists.
Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra, dressed in a dark suit, his forehead glistening with sweat, went on state TV at 4 a.m. to announce his resignation, hours after soldiers stormed his house and forced him into their vehicle.
“Our country is living through a period of crisis. Men and women who are worried about the future of our nation are hoping for peace,” he said on television.
“It’s for this reason that I, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government on this day, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. I apologize before the entire population of Mali.”
After they taped his resignation, the soldiers allowed the 60-year-old to return to his residence Tuesday, where he is now under house arrest, said a spokesman for the junta, Bakary Mariko.
The shake-up in Bamako is already looking like it might endanger plans for a military intervention, which is being discussed this week by the UN.
The African Union agreed to a plan calling for 3,300 African troops to be deployed to Mali to help the Malian military take back its northern territory, which fell to al-Qaida-linked rebels in the chaos following the military-led March 21 coup in the capital.
Already the United States and France are at odds on the best way forward, with France pushing for a quick intervention in order to expel the extremists, while the U.S. is arguing for a more gradual approach, starting with negotiations.