BAMAKO, Mali -- Mali's coup leader responded to the threat of sanctions Friday by saying he plans to hold elections and rapidly return the country to its established order but gave no timetable for immediate action, falling short of demands by West African countries.

Mali's neighbors on Thursday gave Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo a 72-hour deadline to hand power back to civilians or else face severe consequences, including the closing of borders to the landlocked nation and the freezing of the country's account at the regional central bank.

If the measures go into effect, they will be among the toughest imposed on a state in West Africa, where coups, or attempted coups, are still a near-yearly occurrence.

Amid the turmoil, Tuareg rebels in the country's desolate north pushed into the strategic town of Kidal on Friday, according to Lt. Samba Timbo, the chief of security for Sanogo. Kidal, a garrison town, is a major prize for the Tuareg separatists who launched a rebellion in January.

In the capital of Bamako, Sanogo emerged for the first time since the threat of sanctions was announced, telling reporters that he "understands" the position of the regional body, the Economic Community of West African States. At the same time, he said he wanted the organization "to deepen their analysis of the situation in Mali. We ask them to analyze the reasons that led to this coup."

Sanogo grabbed power March 21 after a mutiny at the military camp where he is based, about 6 miles from the presidential palace. The mutiny was sparked over the ill-treatment of soldiers sent to fight the Tuareg rebellion.

Latest videos