August 9, 2005

Envoys give cautious support to Mauritania junta

By Nick Tattersall

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Foreign nations will support the
military junta that staged a bloodless coup in Mauritania if it
shows it can live up to a promise to organize 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.

The United States, the European Union and the African Union
(AU) among others had 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.

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

Taya, who had been in Niger since the coup, unexpectedly
traveled to Gambia on Tuesday, arriving in the evening. On
Monday, Taya said he would return to his country soon, urging
soldiers to resist the new leadership.


Nigerian and South African diplomats, sent by the 53-nation
AU, arrived in Nouakchott on Tuesday to meet the military
council head, Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, as well the prime
minister, political party leaders and members of civil society.

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

Libya's Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam, who
also held talks with the military junta, said the will of
Mauritania's people had to be taken into account.

"After hearing the words of the president of the military
council ... we have the impression that the Mauritanian people
have started to approve (the change) and we approve what the
Mauritanian people approve," he said after the meeting.

On Tuesday evening, civil servants and technocrats were
being summoned by the freshly named civilian prime minister,
Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, with the aim of forming a new
government which is likely to be announced on Wednesday.

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 in the
former French colony.

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

"The AU 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 based.

Taya managed to isolate 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 its support.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Fadel in Nouakchott,
Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Dakar, Abdoulaye Massalatchi in
Niamey and Pap Saine in Banjul)