Mali coup leader says sorry: military source

Former junta chief Amadou Sanogo asked for the forgiveness of the Malian people on Wednesday for a coup which destabilised the west African nation, an army spokesman told AFP.

The soldier "apologised to the people of Mali" at a ceremony of reconciliation between rival factions of the army at the presidential palace in Bamako, said Souleymane Maiga.

Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore also attended the event, along with representatives of various religious communities in Mali.

Sanogo, a captain in the Malian army, overthrew the regime of president Amadou Toumani Toure in a coup in March last year, a move which led to the fall of the country's north to armed Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda and a Franco-African intervention to flush out the insurgents from the region since January.

The coup deepened a schism in the army between the Red Berets, loyal to Toure, and the Green Berets, who were broadly pro-junta.

In May last year the Red Berets attempted a failed counter-coup and tried to seize the airport, national broadcaster and a military barracks that has become the headquarters of the ex-junta.

They were disbanded after the failure of the action and a number of them went missing after being detained by security forces.

After further violence in February, Prime Minister Diango Cissoko held discussions with all parties involved in the crisis in the Malian armed forces, which led to the decision to restructure the Red Berets and restore calm.

The president announced at the ceremony that all soldiers arrested had been released, an aide of Traore said under condition of anonymity.