August 9, 2005

Diplomats give cautious support to Mauritania junta

By Nick Tattersall

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Western nations will support the
military junta that staged a bloodless coup in Mauritania if it
shows it can live up to its promise of organizing democratic
elections, diplomats said on Tuesday.

A 17-member military council seized power in the Islamic
republic last week, ending two decades of authoritarian rule by
President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya and promising
presidential elections within two years.

Jubilant residents took to the streets of the capital
Nouakchott in celebration, while the opposition and even Taya's
own political party swiftly backed the junta's plans.

But the United States, European Union (EU) and African
Union (AU) among others condemned the putsch, with Washington
initially calling for Taya to be restored to power.

"The international community had to condemn the coup out of
principle. A coup is a coup. But the team that took over has a
lot of support here," said one Western diplomat in Nouakchott.

"There will be a period of observation ... If the council
shows it can live up to its promises then after a while
relations will normalize," he said.

An EU delegation would consult with the coup leaders over
the next few months to lay out a timetable guaranteeing a
return to constitutional rule, the diplomat said.

Should the military council then fail to stick to the
timetable, the EU could in theory suspend aid to Mauritania,
which plans to start pumping crude next year.

Taya, who is in Niger, told Dubai-based satellite
television Al Arabiya on Monday that he would return to his
country "soon" and urged soldiers to resist the new leadership,
which is comprised of senior officers from his inner circle.

A delegation of Nigerian and South African diplomats sent
by the 53-nation AU, which has suspended Mauritania, was in
Nouakchott on Tuesday and envoys from Libya and the Arab League
were also expected.

"The principle of the AU is not to agree with coups ... But
we believe we shall not have one policy to fit every
situation," Rantobeng William Mokou, South Africa's ambassador
to Mauritania, told Reuters.


Many Mauritanians dismiss the sudden interest outsiders
have taken, saying they remained silent while Taya had
opponents tortured or expelled during his 21-year rule.

The AU's decision to suspend the country is also seen by
many in Nouakchott as hypocritical, particularly as many of the
body's members themselves came to power following coups.

"The African Union had this reaction when (President
Francois) Bozize took power (in Central African Republic). Now
he is at the heart of the AU," said Mohamed Abdellahi Ould
Babana, Mauritania's ambassador to Ethiopia, where the AU is

Taya managed to ostracize Mauritania both from sub-Saharan
Africa -- by expelling thousands of black Africans -- and from
the Arab world, by establishing diplomatic links with Israel.

The military council has freed some political prisoners,
held meetings with parties from all sides and promised a
constitutional referendum, bolstering is support.

"In these kind of situations the stated intent is often
amended and promises are not kept," said a second Western

"But we have to support the Mauritanian people. This is not
a situation where the African Union, the United Nations, the
United States or France can come in and say this is how things
are going to be done," he said.

(Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Dakar)