The South African government has joined the international community in condemning the military coup in Mauritania.
"South Africa has never countenanced the use of military coups to settle political issues and joins the entire international community in expressing its outright and unequivocal condemnation of such unconstitutional transfer of power," the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.
"South Africa like the rest of humanity calls for an immediate return to democracy and the rule of law."
The concern follows reports that army officers in Mauritania have staged a military coup, overthrowing the government and announcing a new junta that will be led by the head of the country's presidential guard.
According to the reports the coup took place after the president and prime minister fired the country's top four military officials.
The coup comes less than six months after Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdallahi came to power in elections hailed as a model of democracy for Africa, following a three-year transition after a previous coup in August 2005.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also called for the immediate restoration of order in the country.
"The secretary-general calls for respect for the rule of law and the immediate restoration of constitutional order in the country," the UN news website reported, adding that Mr Ban regretted the coup.
Mauritania has been facing a political crisis and on Monday 48 MPs walked out on the ruling party.
This was less than two weeks after a vote of no confidence in the government, which had prompted a cabinet reshuffle.
Mauritania, the Arab-dominated West African nation straddling black and Arab Africa, opened full diplomatic relations with Israel in the 1990s despite widespread objections at home.
Since becoming independent from France in 1960, the country has experienced three previous military coups in 1978, 1984 and 2005.
Mauritania, a sparsely populated nation of three million on the north-west edge of Africa, is tightly controlled by Maaouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya who took power in a 1984 military coup and tried to legitimise his rule in the 1990s through elections.
The first exploitation of the impoverished nation's vast offshore reserves of petroleum is expected during the first quarter of next year.
Although very poor, the World Bank estimates its gross national income at 760 dollars per capita for 2006- Mauritania recently discovered oil in its offshore waters, and exports started in early 2006. Other sources of income are mining for iron, copper and phosphates, and fishing.
The country is also one of Africa's newest oil producers, which also mines iron, copper and gold. - BuaNews