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african union supports junta

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    The African Union (AU) yesterday reversed its initial position on the coup in Mauritania, giving a tacit conditional support to that country's new military junta which it had earlier insisted must return to constitutionality.

    But the table turned shortly after Nigeria's foreign affairs minister, Ambassador Olu Adeniji, who led a delegation of four AU ministers landed in the Northern African State.

    In an interview with THISDAY last night, Adeniji said the delegation was thoroughly amazed at the situation it found on arrival in Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania.

    The delegation, he said, had meetings with all the stakeholders in that country from the leader of the military council, to labour unions, human rights groups among several others.

    "The amazing thing is that there was no single dissenting view", he said adding that they all supported the coup.

    According to him, Maurita-nians saw the coup as a way of doing away with the despotic rule of former President Maaouyia Ould Taya, who had won elections three times.

    The delegation, Adeniji said, had no option but to parley with the junta and find out what their plan was.

    The junta, he said, told the delegation how it plans to hold elections in two years time, among other issues.

    Though the Mauritanians were not opposed to that arrangement, Adeniji said the delegation told the junta the AU could not accept the two-year transition programme which it considers too long.

    The delegation then told the junta in clear terms that it must reduce considerably the time frame for its regime and come up with a comprehensive plan of action to conduct a free, fair and transparent election which will be closely monitored by the AU.

    Asked what the suggested time limit was, the minister said" I'm not telling you that. I am yet to report to my President who is the Chairman of the AU"

    But the new head of state, Adeniji said, assured the delegation he would go and consider the suggestion of the AU.

    On what the AU plans to do if the junta rejects AU's proposal, Adeniji said, "they will not refuse because they want to go back to the AU"

    The minister said emphatically that the ban on that country from the AU stands until a return to constitutionality.

    Asked what the fate of the ousted president was, Adeniji said judging by the situation on ground, it was almost impossible to bring him back without a blood-bath.

    Taya, he said, allegedly ignored the dictates of his country's constitution.

    Such unconstitutional actions of Taya, Adeniji said, included banning that country's nationals who were his opponents and sending them into exile.

    Another major allegation against Taya, the minister noted was that Blacks complained that slavery is not only rampant in that country it was encouraged by Taya.

    The United States had also on Monday backed down on its initial hardline position. The US is now working with the military junta to ensure that multi-party elections are held as soon as possible, a State Department spokesman said.

    Meanwhile none of Taya's ministers have been retained in the new government but Ahmed Ould Sid'Ahmed, the foreign minister who signed the 1999 deal establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, has been given his old job back.

    The head of the military council, Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, looks set to take on the duties of defence minister, after no-one else was named to this post.

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