French President Francois Hollande said Friday that elections scheduled in troubled Mali for July must be held nationwide, as instability in the north and a refugee crisis have raised doubts this will be possible.
“We must make sure that Malian civil administration can be put in place everywhere for the organization of these elections. And France, through its military presence and other armies, will contribute to this,” he said during a press conference in Paris.
“These elections must take place throughout the Malian territory, I insist throughout the Malian territory. No fraction of Mali must be deprived of the possibility of organizing the election.”
He said this extended to the far northeastern region of Kidal, held by Tuareg rebels who refuse to give up arms or take part in the elections until negotiations had taken place with Mali's government.
In addition, over 400,000 Malians have been displaced since the start of the crisis.
The national electoral commission said recently that July 7, the date most often mooted for the first round of a presidential election, “would be a difficult to achieve”.
Hollande said both France and Mali's neighbor Niger -- whose leader Mahamadou Issoufou was also at the press conference -- were committed to the holding of the vote by the end of July.
The July polls are expected to hand Mali a legitimate government to lead it out of a crisis that has crippled the west African nation since Tuareg rebels launched a rebellion in January 2012 for independence of the north.
Their insurgency overwhelmed Mali's troops and led to a coup in Bamako. This opened the way for hardline Islamists to chase out their former Tuareg allies and seize key northern cities.
France intervened in January and has since pushed the Al-Qaeda-linked militants into desert and mountain hideouts, from where they are staging guerrilla attacks.
Hollande said the French action Operation Serval had “succeeded militarily” and could now proceed to aid the political process.
“In the fight against terrorism, politics is also a weapon,” he said.
France has begun withdrawing its 4,500 troops deployed in Mali and handing over the reins to a 6,300-strong force, the International Mission for Support to Mali (MISMA).
Paris has said about 1,000 soldiers will remain in Mali beyond this year to back up a UN force that is to replace MISMA.
A U.N. force of 12,600 peacekeepers, to be responsible for stabilizing the north, will be phased in gradually from July.
Hollande: Mali polls must take place nationwide