President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali remained incommunicado Friday, as rebel soldiers who staged a coup searched for him and Taureg rebels pressed their offensive in the north.
Coup leader, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo on Thursday announced on state television that Toure was in good health, but refused to say where he is - or if he is being held by the mutineers.
"For the moment, I will not tell you where President Amadou Toumani Toure is," he said. "He's very well. He's safe. As far as us — I already told you yesterday that our objective is not to physically harm anyone."
Sanogo also assured the public that the ministers that have been detained by the junta were safe and will not be hurt.
"And I assure you that no one will physically hurt any of them, but as long as I remain at the head of this movement ... they will however need to go before a competent court," Sanogo said.
Sanogo told pan-African television station Africable on Thursday he would not remain in power, but refused to set a timetable for restoring constitutional rule.
"Three months, six months, nine months, it will depend on the structure that we put in place for me to go back to being a soldier. Someone else will do the rest," Sanogo said.
"We have come asking for decent living conditions and to be treated well ... We will fight for this," he added.
Restoring state authority in the north was the new junta's top priority, he said. However, Sanogo also said ministers and other senior government officials arrested by the mutineers would face trial.
"We are not killers. I am not a killer. But the moment was right and everyone will have to face charges before the appropriate authority," he said.
The coup began when a protest staged by soldiers erupted in angry violence that blossomed into open mutiny.
The soldiers accuse the government — especially Toure — of sending them to the battlefield without the proper equipment and without even enough food. Widows of fallen soldiers have not been compensated.
Ethnic Taureg separatists have fought a sporadic battle to carve out a homeland in the country's northern desert since Mali's independence from France in 1960.
The latest wave of violence is being fueled by an influx of arms, and Taureg mercenaries who fought on the side of Tripoli's late strongman Muammar Qaddafi, from Libya.
Taureg rebels on Friday were reportedly approaching towns in the north, amid the confusion created by the attempted coup in Bamako by low-ranking soldiers focused on finding Toure.
Toure, 63, was himself was a paratrooper who came to power in a 1991 coup and was hailed for handing power to civilians the next year, earning the nickname "Soldier of Democracy." He won the democratic election in 2002.
Toure was set to step down in April at the end of his second term.
Thge United Nations, world powers, and Mali's neighbors all called for the junta to return power to the rightful authorities. The World Bank and African Development have suspended funds to the country.