Mali president-elect vows national reconciliation

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Malian president-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita vowed Wednesday to focus on national reconciliation once he takes office next month in this country wracked by a rebellion, a coup and an Islamic insurgency.

Keita won Mali’s Aug. 11 presidential runoff with 77.6 percent of the vote. Many voters said they thought he was best equipped from an initial field of 28 candidates to reunify the nation after more than a year of turmoil.

Keita says his top priority will be to “gather together all Malians around the ideals of peace and tolerance.”

“I will be the president of national reconciliation,” he told journalists Wednesday.

A rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs in northern Mali in early 2012 followed by an Islamic insurgency in the same region has left lingering tensions that pose one of Keita’s greatest challenges.

Deadly reprisal attacks have targeted those accused of having aided rebels and jihadists, and the town of Kidal remains deeply opposed to the Malian military presence there. The secular Tuareg rebels who are based in Kidal already have agreed to start talks with the Malian government 60 days after Keita’s administration is in place.

Many Malians in the south, though, remain opposed to negotiating with the rebels. The soldiers who overthrew the president in a March 2012 coup had blamed the ousted government for badly handling the Tuareg rebellion. That coup unraveled decades of democracy in Mali and created a vacuum in which the radical jihadists overtook the major towns of the north until a French-led military operation was launched in January.

Mali’s presidential election will restore a democratically chosen leader to the country’s helm, helping to unlock some $4 billion in promised aid from international donors who made those funds contingent on a legitimate government being in place.

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