Mali countercoup bid fails, junta claims control

Coup leader said that the countercoup had failed and that his soldiers have captured foreign fighters.

Bamako (Mali): Gunfire echoed across Bamako today as Malian government troops battled each other, with one side trying to oust soldiers who seized power in a coup over a month ago.

Mali`s coup leaders, who ostensibly handed over power to an interim civilian government on April 12 but who still wield power, said they control the state broadcaster, the airport and a military base, fending off attacks by opposing forces.

Coup leader Capt Amadou Sanogo told a private radio station last night that the countercoup had failed and that his soldiers have captured foreign fighters.

A senior Western diplomat based in Bamako told The Associated Press that the fighting apparently started when forces loyal to the junta tried to arrest the former head of the presidential guard. The presidential guard is part of Mali`s parachutist regiment, known as the Red Berets, who are believed to have remained loyal to President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was ousted during the coup.

Anti-junta forces yesterday tried to take over the country`s state broadcaster and attacked the airport and the junta`s main military base. Soldiers loyal to Sanogo appeared on state television early today and said the important installations remain in their hands after fighting started yesterday. But heavy gunfire across Bamako suggests that the leaders of the March coup don`t yet have total control over the capital.

A source close to the junta told AP that reinforcements were coming from other major Malian towns to strengthen the junta`s position.

"The first reinforcements have already arrived and others will be in Bamako soon," the solider said. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the press.

A resident in the camp where most of the military personnel who tried to stage the countercoup live said Sanogo`s forces are trying to capture those soldiers.
"Most of the families who live here and most of the military personnel have fled, but they still come to attack the camp," the resident said. He asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals. He said that he could hear both small arms fire and heavy weapons but could not give more details as he was afraid to leave his house.

State television showed a small group of prisoners along with guns, ammunition and grenades supposedly belonging to the captured troops.