Bamako (Mali): Mali's coup leader said on Friday that the President and members of the government arrested by soldiers were safe and sound and the ministers would soon be handed over to the courts for trial.

Captain Amadou Sanogo said President Amadou Toumani Toure was safe and "doing very well", saying he did not want to reveal his whereabouts, which remain unclear.

Members of Toure's entourage said on Thursday he was under the protection of his elite paratrooper guard at a military barracks. However it was not clear if this was still the case a day later.

Several government ministers were arrested when the mutinous troops attacked the presidential palace on Wednesday night.

"These people are safe and sound. We will not touch a hair on their heads. I will hand them over to the courts so that the Malian people know the truth," Sanogo, who speaks in a raspy, hoarse voice told journalists in an interview.

He was speaking at a military barracks 15 kilometres from Bamako, surrounded by rank-and-file soldiers, who appear to form the backbone behind the coup, with few officers among the coup leaders.

It was at this barracks in Kati that a mutiny broke out Wednesday, leading to a full-blown coup after months of anger over the government's response to a Tuareg rebellion in the north.

Soldiers attacked the presidential palace, which was shown pitted with bullet holes, a small part of it blackened by fire, in images broadcast on state television -- also under control of the renegade soldiers.

Sanogo condemned looting, including that of government vehicles, by soldiers after the coup.

He said it was not only the northern insurrection by Tuareg that had prompted the coup but a general malaise within government.

In another interview broadcast on national television, Sanogo said Tuareg rebels who had been battling the regime for independence could join the army or be dealt with firmly.

(Agencies)