United Nations: Mali must start election work now
PARIS – The UN special envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, is urging Mali’s government to start election preparations immediately, he was cited as saying in an interview to be published by daily newspaper La Croix on Wednesday.
“As of now, the Malian government must start technical preparations to organise the elections, especially when it comes to voter registrations. It’s an enormous amount of work that must be started if you want to hold credible elections when the security situation permits,” the former European Commission president said.
“With the help of the international community, through the UN, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States [Ecowas] and the European Union, the Malian government has to take the initiative,” Prodi said.
“As soon as stability is established in the country’s main cities it will be necessary to resume negotiations immediately, because peace in Mali is made through political stabilisation.”
In the interview, he also touched on the subjects of humanitarian aid to refugees and the creation of an intervention fund for the Sahel, which will help finance development projects in all the countries in the region.
“All of Europe has an interest in not having an African Afghanistan,” he said, noting also that “European countries can support France with bilateral aid.”
On January 11, France launched a military intervention to help Mali oust Islamists controlling the northern parts of the country.
Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore on Tuesday said he hopes to organise elections by 31 July.
French troops were at the gates of the last major city in northern Mali still outside their control early yesterday after their forces landed at the airport in Kidal, local sources said.
“We confirm that French aircraft are on the Kidal landing strip and that protection helicopters are in the sky,” said a regional security source and a senior Tuareg figure in Kidal also confirmed the report.
A spokesperson for the Islamic Movement of Azawad (IMA), which recently announced it had taken control of Kidal, said the French had landed there.
“Our leader is currently talking with them.”
Kidal lies 1 500km northeast of the capital Bamako and until recently was controlled by the Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith).
Last Thursday however, the newly formed IMA announced it had split from Ansar Dine, that it rejected “extremism and terrorism” and wanted to find a peaceful solution to Mali’s crisis.
Kidal is the third of the major cities in northern Mali which, along with Gao and Timbuktu, were for 10 months were under the control of hardline Islamists.
They profited from the chaos following a military coup last March to seize the north and imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic sharia law there. Offenders suffered whippings, amputations and in some cases were executed.
With the recapture of Timbuktu by French-led forces on Monday, Kidal became the last major northern city still outside their control.
Britain said it was ready to boost the number of military personnel helping the operation to more than 300, adding around 240 to more than 90 military personnel already in the region supporting the mission.
Experts were still trying to assess exactly how many of the city’s priceless ancient manuscripts dating back to the Middle Ages had been destroyed when fleeing Islamists set fire to the building housing them.
The custodian of the collection said some of the documents had been smuggled to safety before insurgents seized the town 10 months ago, in the chaos that followed the military coup.
The militants destroyed ancient Muslim shrines in Timbuktu that they considered idolatrous.
On Tuesday interim President Dioncounda Traore said he hoped to hold “transparent and credible” elections by July 31.
Mali’s parliament unanimously approved government proposals to start talks with “armed groups which do not threaten either the integrity or the secular nature” of the state.
French Foreign Minister Fabius insisted that France’s troops would leave Mali quickly, in comments to Le Parisien newspaper published on Wednesday.
“Freeing Gao and Timbuktu very quickly was part of the plan,” he said.
“Now it’s for the African countries to take over,” he added, echoing comments made by President Francois Hollande on Monday. -Nampa-AFP