Former Malian interim president Bah Ndaw and his prime minister Moctar Ouane have been freed from house arrest, the West African bloc ECOWAS has said.

In a statement released on Friday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it “welcomes” the move by Mali to lift “all restrictive measures” on the former leaders.

Both men were appointed as interim civilian leaders after a military coup in August 2020, charged with steering Mali back towards civilian rule.

But after a sensitive government reshuffle in May, Mali’s strongman Colonel Assimi Goita deposed Ndaw and Ouane in a second coup. Goita was later declared interim president himself.

Aides to Ndaw and Ouane had indicated that the two leaders had been kept under house arrest after their ouster.

The Malian government confirmed their release in comments on Twitter late Friday.

Respect the law

However, the government stressed “the need to respect… the law and to refrain from any action that could impact the smooth running of the transition”.

ECOWAS said the pair should enjoy all the rights associated with their role as former president and former prime minister.

The lifting of restrictions follows an appeal from Ndaw and Ouane to the ECOWAS court of justice, which recently demanded that Mali justify their detention.

Neither Ndaw or Ouane has spoken publicly since they were dismissed in May.

Goita, for his part, has promised to restore civilian rule and hold elections in February next year.

However, there are doubts about whether the government will be able to hold elections within such a short time frame in the shadow of rampant violence across Mali.

The government has been struggling to quell a jihadist insurgency that first broke out in the north in 2012, and which has since spread to the centre of the country and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the conflict to date.

On Friday, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Group to Support Islam and Muslims claimed responsibility for an August attack that claimed the lives of 17 Malian soldiers, according to SITE Intelligence, which monitors jihadist activities worldwide.

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