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Dakar - Mali's government is confident that the shaky security situation in the desert north will not stop nationwide legislative elections from going ahead later this month, a minister said in an interview published on Sunday.
“We believe that things can improve by November 24 as far as the legislative elections are concerned,” Cheick Oumar Diarrah, minister of northern reconciliation and development, said in an interview with TV5 Monde, Radio France Internationale (RFI) and the influential daily Le Monde.
“We are optimistic because of ongoing (peace) talks and powerful action to bring those who take part in the dialogue (with the Malian government) in Ouagadougou into a positive dynamic,” he added, without elaborating.
Conflict-scarred Mali has been the target of a series of attacks claimed by Islamist insurgents since France launched a military operation in January against al-Qaeda-linked groups occupying the north of the country.
In the latest upsurge of violence, two French radio journalists were kidnapped and shot dead last weekend in a killing claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Earlier this month, Tuareg and Arab rebels resumed peace talks with the Malian government in the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, notably about the northern territories where they are fighting for autonomy, nine days after they staged a walkout.
The walkout had dealt a blow to hopes of lasting peace in the troubled West African country, which only elected a new president in August after 18 months of political crisis sparked by a military coup in March last year.
The Malian government has categorically refused to consider self-rule for the country's vast desert north.
The day after the peace process broke down, two Malian soldiers were wounded by a grenade attack in rebel stronghold Kidal.
A suicide bombing attack followed swiftly in another northern city, Timbuktu, killing two civilians and wounding six soldiers, according to the government. AQIM claimed that 16 soldiers were killed in the attack.
Fresh fighting also broke out in Kidal, where insurgents attacked the army.
The chief suspect in the kidnapping of the French journalists is a Tuareg thought to have associated with both AQIM and the mainly secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) rebels.
“I don't think that those who contributed to the assassination (of the two journalists) in Kidal can stop the election in the Kidal region,” said Diarrah. “They have no strategy and they would further alienate the international community.”