Posted: Friday 7th June 2013 at 20:38 pm

UN’s Koenders hopeful over Mali election talks

The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative to Mali, Bert Koenders, pictured on December 9, 2011.  By Sia Kambou (AFP/File)

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Mali, Bert Koenders, pictured on December 9, 2011. By Sia Kambou (AFP/File)

BAMAKO (AFP) – The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Mali spoke of his optimism Friday that talks between the government and armed rebels would ease the way for elections, despite recent heavy fighting.

Asked by AFP whether deadly clashes between Tuareg rebels and Malian soldiers in the country’s north this week had undermined the dialogue in Burkina Faso, Bert Koenders replied: “No, I don’t think so.”

Koenders told reporters in Bamako he placed “great hope in the Ouagadougou negotiations”, which have brought together Malian officials and Tuareg leaders to hammer out a deal on organising free and fair elections.

Under pressure from its former colonial power France, which has led a military offensive since January against Al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali’s vast desert north, Bamako has announced nationwide elections on July 28.

The vote is seen as essential to restoring democratic rule after a coup last year paved the way for the Islamist rebels to seize control of Mali’s Saharan cities.

One of the main stumbling blocks to a nationwide vote is the ongoing uncertainty in the desert city of Kidal, occupied by armed ethnic Tuaregs from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) who rose up to fight for independence for the north in January 2012.

While French troops control the airport and work with the MNLA in Kidal, the separatists have rejected any suggestion that they should allow Malian military or government into the town.

Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore is in talks in Ouagadougou with Malian officials and Tuareg leaders from northern Mali to try to clear the way for a country-wide vote.

But Mali’s army has declared its intention to recapture the town before the elections and engaged the MNLA south of Kidal on Wednesday, leaving 30 dead on the rebel side and two Malian soldiers wounded, according to its own toll.

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