Bamako - Mali will hold a presidential election on July 28, according to a draft law adopted by the Cabinet as the nation struggles to move on from war and an 18-month political crisis.
A Cabinet communique seen by AFP on Monday marked the first official confirmation of the date of the poll, seen as essential to restoring democratic rule after a coup last year paved the way for Islamist rebels to seize control of the north.
“The campaign will open on Sunday, July 7, at midnight and close at midnight on July 26,” the draft law read.
Acting president Dioncounda Traore has said that neither he nor his ministers will stand in the polls, which will go to a second round on August 11 if required.
The new government will have to lead Mali out of a crisis that has crippled the country since a Tuareg rebellion for independence of the north in January 2012.
They overwhelmed government troops, leading to a military coup in the capital Bamako which opened the way for hardline Islamists to chase out their former Tuareg allies and seize key northern cities before moving on the south.
France, Mali's former colonial power, sent in troops in January to block an advance by the al-Qaeda-linked rebels on Bamako.
The French-led offensive has pushed the militants out of the main cities and into desert and mountain hideouts from where they are staging guerrilla attacks.
Mali envoy and former foreign minister Tiebile Drame, speaking in Burkina Faso, confirmed that “the Malian authorities plan to hold the first round of a presidential election on July 28”.
He said there were high hopes that “we can move quickly towards the signing of an interim accord permitting the holding of the presidential election throughout the whole national territory of Mali”.
He was attending talks with Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, the regional mediator in the Mali crisis.
One of the Mali rebel delegates, also in the Burkina capital Ouagadougou for talks on the crisis, gave a guarded welcome to news of the election date.
Hamada Ag Bibi, head of the High Council for the unity of Azawad (HCUA) said his group would “not oppose” the holding of the poll which could usher in “a legitimate power”, a president who could then hold negotiations on the future of Azawad.
That is the name Tuaregs use to refer to the northern half of Mali which they consider to be their heartland and for whose independence rebel groups have fought for years.
France meanwhile has begun withdrawing its 4 500 troops deployed in Mali and is 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 of 12 600 peacekeepers that is to replace MISMA gradually from July and will be responsible for stabilising the north.
Meanwhile, the EU is training Mali's rag-tag armed forces to bring them up to standard on both their military role and responsibilities to civil society.
The international community hopes the July elections will produce an effective government but Mali's national electoral commission has voiced concerns about the tight timeframe.
Deeply divided and poverty-stricken Mali is badly in need of help to repair the damage caused by the war and to offer some hope of bringing together its disparate political groups.
European Union officials say the war has displaced 500 000 people, with three quarters of them fleeing to the southern part of the country.
Two million people have no secure food supply while 600 000 children are threatened by malnutrition, with conditions on the ground difficult for providing aid. - Sapa-AFP