A court in Mali’s capital Bamako on Thursday began hearing a long-delayed case against former coup leader Amadou Sanogo, who is accused of killing 21 elite soldiers, AFP journalists said.
A former army captain, Sanogo and several other plotters staged a military coup against President Amadou Toumani Toure in the Sahel state in 2012, after a rebellion emerged in the country’s north.
But the junta led by Sanogo stepped aside under international pressure after critical northern cities such as Timbuktu and Gao fell to the rebels.
Sanogo was later arrested and then held for six years on charges of killing 21 elite “Red Berets” who opposed the putsch.
Jihadists have since commandeered the northern rebellion, with the violence spreading to central Mali as well as neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, killing thousands.
A case against Sanogo began in 2016 but stalled. A court then ordered Sanogo’s temporary release last year, which sparked fears among rights defenders that the former putschist would avoid facing trial.
Those fears were assuaged after lawyers handling the case indicated last month that the trial was set to resume.
Sixteen other plotters are charged alongside the former coup leader.
The Sanogo affair has long irked Mali’s government, with fears that a conviction could lead to dissent within army ranks.
It is not clear whether Sanogo and his fellow plotters will be sentenced.
However, the court is being asked to ratify a financial agreement between relatives of the killed soldiers and the state, which already decided to offer compensation last year.
“This trial must be closed here … and our clients must be exonerated of all proceedings,” said Alassane Sangare, one of Sanogo’s lawyers.
Mali’s current government is itself staffed by army figures who launched the most recent coup in the unstable country, in August.
Young army officers seized power after weeks of protests against president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, before handing over to an interim government which is meant to govern for 18 months before staging elections.
Coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita is serving as interim vice president.