African Union ends Mali suspension over military coup

Malian refugees on October 21, 2012 at the Mentao refugee camp in Burkina Faso The turmoil of recent months has forced thousands of Malians to flee to neighbouring countries

The African Union has lifted the suspension it imposed on Mali after a military coup in the country in March.

The body has also endorsed a plan calling for fresh elections and the return of law and order, according to an AU spokesman.

AU officials have also been discussing the logistics of an intervention force to help Malian authorities recover areas seized by Islamists in the north.

The territory was overrun by militants in the chaos following the March coup.

The AU's Peace and Security Council had decided "to lift the suspension of Mali from the activities of the AU. Mali is therefore invited to participate in full," Ramtane Lamamra, AU Peace and Security Commissioner, told the Reuters news agency.

The AU is also finalising planning for a deployment of an African-led international force in Mali, according to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the AU Commission.

However, the AU would leave the "door open" for those rebel groups that wished to negotiate, she added.

Chaotic aftermath

The March coup was carried out by disaffected soldiers who overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure, claiming his government had not dealt effectively with a Tuareg rebellion in the north.

In the aftermath of the coup, Islamists took over several towns in the north, initially along with Tuareg rebels, but the alliance subsequently broke down.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council passed a resolution paving the way for military intervention in Mali and asking African organisations to formulate a plan for such an intervention within 45 days.

Both Mali's government and the West African regional body Ecowas have both expressed readiness for an international force to intervene, with Ecowas proposing a force of 3,000.

Meanwhile, the US is working with regional and international partners to counter what it fears is al-Qaeda's presence in Mali, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on Wednesday.

"I've made clear… we have to ensure that al-Qaeda has no place to hide and that we have to continue to go after them wherever they try to develop a command-and-control capability from which they could conduct attacks," he said.

The Islamist groups who seized control in northern Mali are suspected of allowing al-Qaeda infiltration and of committing human rights abuses in their rigid application of Islamic law.

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