By Jamie Crawford
The United States suspended a portion of its aid to Mali in light of last week's coup in the West African nation, the State Department said Monday.
"We have now taken the decision to suspend our assistance to the government of Mali pending a resolution of the situation on the ground," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "We want to see the elected government restored as quickly as possible."
Three senior African diplomats stranded in Mali by last week's military coup have been safely evacuated, the African Union announced Monday.
The foreign ministers of Kenya and Zimbabwe were flown out on an airplane provided by the government of Kenya, while the Tunisian secretary of state flew out with a group Tunisian nationals who lived and worked in Mali, the group said.
The diplomats were in Bamako, Mali, for a meeting of the African Union's Peace and Security Council when the coup began, trapping them in the city, the group said.
When African Union Commission chief Jean Ping spoke by telephone with Capt. Amadou Sanogo, the junta leader "promised to ensure the security and safe evacuation of the officials," the African Union said.
Sanogo's soldiers usurped power last week, wresting control of the nation from President Amadou Toumani Toure.
Ping also asked Sanogo about Toure's location and condition, the group said. He "reiterated the need to ensure his safety and the immediate return of the country to constitutional legality," it said.
The United States is suspending assistance on a government-to-government level, Nuland said. Food and humanitarian aid, mostly administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development, would not be affected by the announcement, she said.
The United States gives Mali's government roughly $140 million in aid each year. Approximately half of that sum is dedicated to food humanitarian assistance, Nuland said. "I am expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 (million) to $70 million in assistance will be suspended," she said.
The country is seen by many Western governments as a crucial ally in the fight against the regional affiliate off-shoot of al Qaeda.
The African Union suspended Mali's membership in the group following the coup, and the State Department has warned against travel to the country.