BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Former military Gen. Amadou Haya Sanogo, who overthrew Mali’s president in 2012, was released on bail Tuesday as he awaits a long-delayed trial on charges he had 21 soldiers killed after a failed counter-coup that same year.
Human rights groups have decried the long quest for justice for the victims, whose bodies were found in a mass grave. The government of the West African nation, though, has expressed concern that the trial could inflame tensions at a time when discontent is on the rise in the military.
Sagara Bintou Maiga, president of the victims’ association, acknowledged that risk in saying “we only want stability for our country” after learning of Sanogo’s release on bail.
Sanogo and his co-defendants did not go on trial until late 2016 and then the case was swiftly adjourned. The trial was supposed to start up again earlier this month, but it was again put on hold.
No date has been set for his trial to resume, and Sanogo is free to move without restrictions, according to his lawyer, Cheick Oumar Konare.
Amnesty International West Africa researcher Ousmane Diallo said Sanogo’s provisional release is casting doubt on authorities’ commitment to deliver justice and truth to the victims’ families: “We urge the authorities in Mali to ensure all serious human rights violations are investigated and prosecuted.”
Witnesses have told Human Rights Watch that they last saw the soldiers — bound and blindfolded — being loaded onto a truck in the middle of the night. One witness later provided the group with a handwritten list of the victims’ names.
Malian authorities have expressed concerns that Sanogo’s trial could undermine stability in the country wracked by Islamic extremism and growing resentment of the military’s inability to contain the spread of violence. Sanogo still has support within the beleaguered military, and some had called for his release.
The political upheaval of the 2012 coup and the ensuing power vacuum paved the way for Islamic extremists to further their grip on northern Mali, a crisis that now plagues central Mali and has spilled over into neighboring Burkina Faso.
At the time of the coup, Sanogo was backed by the rank-and-file soldiers who marched on the presidential palace and toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure. Sanogo, though, was opposed by the elite paratroopers known as the Red Berets who made up the ousted president’s guard. When they attempted to lead a counter-coup the following month, human rights groups say Sanogo responded with force.
The counter-coup ultimately failed, though Sanogo later handed over power to a transitional civilian government and left after negotiating a salary given to former heads of state.
Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.