Muaritania: ousted leader pledges counter-coup

Mauritania's recently-ousted president Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya, now in exile in Niger, pledged to return to power, and appealed to the Mauritanian armed forces to launch a counter-coup on his behalf. He made the appeal in an interview on Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV, broadcast throughout the region, including in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott. Taya said he would "return soon" and issued orders "in my capacity as president of the republic to the armed forces to restore the natural order and put an end to this crime."

Taya urged the 53-nation African Union to keep up pressure on the junta. "I am determined to return to Nouakchott to continue the job of building our nation," Taya said.

The AU, which harshly criticized the coup and suspended Mauritania's membership, said in a statement Aug. 8 that the continent-wide body was sending a delegation to Nouakchott "to discuss with the new Mauritanian authorities ways of restoring constitutional order."

Washington said it backed the trip, while stopping short of demanding Taya's return to power. Said Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman: "We're not insisting on a given outcome other than it be a restoration of constitutional rule and practices consistent with international standards."

Junta leader Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall has announced Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar would be the new prime minister, replacing the former premier, who had resigned along with his cabinet. (AP, Aug. 8)

On Aug. 7, Mauritania's military released several imprisoned Islamist and opposition leaders, while hundreds of their supporters took the streets of the capital in celebration. Among major figures released are Mukhtar Weld Muhammad Mousa, chairman of the Democratic Forum party; and popular clerics Sheikh Muhammad al-Hassan Weld al-Dodo and Muhammad Elamine Weld al-Hassan. Remaining in custody are some 20 detainees from the Jihad al-Salafeyah organization, accused of ties to the Algeria-based Salafist Group for Call and Combat. (Arabic News, Aug. 8) The Salafist Group has been on the State Department Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 2003.

The armed opposition group in exile called the Knights of Change welcomed the coup, saying in an official statement issued from Mali that the move was necessary to rescue the country from "the bloody tyrant." (Arabic News, Aug. 6)

Energy exploitation plans appear to be moving ahead despite the change of government. Canada's Energem Resources Inc just announced "that a wholly owned subsidiary has acquired the exploitation rights to the shallow water off-shore block 18 in Mauritania." (CNW Group press release, Aug. 8) Mauritania "sits on an estimated one billion barrels of oil and 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas," according to AFX business news wire. (AFX News, Aug. 3)

The coup comes just as "the US military is embarking on a long-term push into Africa to counter what it considers growing inroads by al Qaeda and other terrorist networks in poor, lawless and predominantly Muslim expanses of the continent," the Washington Post reported just days before the putsch.

"The Pentagon plans to train thousands of African troops in battalions equipped for extended desert and border operations and to link the militaries of different countries with secure satellite communications. The initiative, with proposed funding of $500 million over seven years, covers Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia -- with the US military eager to add Libya if relations improve." (WP, July 26) There has been no word how these plans have been affected by the coup.

Meanwhile, Oxfam said aid is urgently needed for West Africa, where millions are at risk of starvation. The situation is most grave in Niger, where some 3.6 million are without food following the destruction of this year's harvest by a locust invasion. But also mentioned were Mali, where a million are said to be without food, and Mauritania. (Reuetrs, Aug. 9)

Finally, it remains uncertain if the new junta will change what some have called the "ethnic cleansing" polcies of the Taya regime. Two weeks before Taya was ousted, Abdarahmane Wone, North America spokesman for the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM), a political group devoted to democracy and federalism, told Voice of America that under an official order issued nearly 20 years ago, the government is able to redistribute lands that are not being farmed. In reality, he charged the government uses the policy to redistribute lands from the mostly black south to Arabicized northerners. Wone said the government has used a series of financial institutions, such as the Central Bank of Mauritania, the Mauritian and Islamic Arab Bank, and the Arabo-Libyan Bank of Mauritania, to finance such land acquisitions. Mauritania's embassy in Washington did not respond to the charges. (VOA, July 15)

SPECIAL NOTE: At midnight Tuesday Aug. 9 EST, WW4 REPORT editor Bill Weinberg will feature a live interview with Abdarahmane Wone of the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM), on his weekly program on New York's WBAI Radio, the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade. Wone will speak on ethnic cleansing and the persistence of slavery in his homeland, and the long struggle of Black Mauritanians for equal rights under Taya's regime. Those in the New York City area can tune into 99.5 FM. Our readers around the world can listen online through the miracle of podcasting.

See our last post on Mauritania.