BAMAKO: A military junta that seized power in Mali last month rejected a regional plan to extend the rule of an interim civilian government on Saturday, casting a shadow over delicately-balanced negotiations to resolve the country's crisis.
The junta had already agreed to hand over power for 40 days to a civilian government led by caretaker president Dioncounda Traore, and then allow the country to hold elections by the end of May.
But the West African regional bloc ECOWAS on Thursday said the interim government should have up to 12 months to hold the elections.
The junta on Saturday accused ECOWAS of making the decision without consulting it and said the change could derail the whole transition process.
"I want to reassure everyone that the CNRDRE (junta) will stick only to the (earlier 40-day) agreement signed with ECOWAS. It is not possible to change it," coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo said after a tense meeting with ECOWAS mediators.
"This is with regards to Dioncounda's interim rule. After the 40 days, we will decide which state organs will continue, that is what we agreed and that cannot be changed," Sanogo told journalists.
Adding to uncertainty over the process, he did not refer to holding any elections after the 40-day period.
Armed soldiers gathered outside the talks at the Kati military base, about 20km (13 miles) north of the capital Bamako shouting "Down with ECOWAS" and "Down with Dioncounda".
It was always highly unlikely Mali would meet the 40-day deadline to hold elections after a mix of separatist and Islamist rebels, taking advantage of the chaos after the coup, seized the northern two-thirds of the country and declared an independent state.
The naming of an interim president has nominally shifted the seat of power from a dusty out-of-town barracks back to the repaired presidential palace. But mid-ranking coup-leading officers still hold sway in the poor former French colony.
The junta has already said it would resist an ECOWAS plan to deploy of West African soldiers in the country and would treat foreign forces as "the enemy".