BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The Mali coup leader who overthrew the country's democratically elected president more than a year ago received a big promotion Wednesday to army general, an announcement made just days after the country chose a new president.
News of Amadou Sanogo's new job title drew criticism from human rights activists who said he should instead face investigation into abuses committed by his loyalists after the March 2012 coup.
Lt. Col. Souleymane Maiga, the army's head of public relations, confirmed the promotion of Sanogo, who was a captain at the time he and other mutinous soldiers overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure.
In becoming a general, Sanogo skipped over the army titles of commandant, lieutenant colonel and colonel. While he had handed over power nominally to a transitional civilian government that remains in place, many critics said Sanogo continued to play a role behind the scenes in national politics.
The announcement of his promotion came just two days after Ibrahim Boubacar Keita became Mali's president-elect when his opponent conceded defeat before official runoff vote results were released. Keita takes the oath of office next month, and was he believed to be the junta's preferred candidate among the field of 28, though he had criticized the coup after it happened.
Corinne Dufka, the senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, called Sanogo's promotion "outrageous." Last year, the rights organization said it had documented the disappearances of at least 20 people who were presumed dead after allegedly being linked to a countercoup attempt against Sanogo's regime.
"Instead of being rewarded with this promotion, Sanogo should have been investigated for his alleged involvement in these acts," Dufka said.
Human Rights Watch said two witnesses said they had seen Sanogo at the military base where the victims were tortured. "One witness said he saw Sanogo kick one detainee who has since disappeared, and heard him threaten several others," their report detailed.
Mali's coup paved the way for secular Tuareg rebels and later al-Qaida-linked militants to seize control of northern Mali. The radical jihadists were later ousted in a French-led military invasion.
The U.S. State Department has confirmed that Sanogo benefited from six training missions to the United States dating back to 1998, when he attended an infantry training course at Fort Benning, Georgia.
He returned in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2010 to attend some of the most prestigious military institutions in America, including the Defense Language Institute at the Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He took a basic officer course at Quantico, Virginia, and learned to use a light-armored vehicle at Camp Pendleton, California.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.