Calm returns in Mali after kidnappings
22 July 2013, 18:20
Bamako - Voter registration cards went out on Monday in an
atmosphere of calm in the northern Malian town where election officials were
briefly kidnapped on Saturday, one of the freed workers said.
The five poll organisers and a local official had been at
the town hall in Tessalit, near the Algerian border, to plan the distribution
of the cards for Mali's 28 July presidential election when they were taken by
"Today is calm in Tessalit and distribution of voter
cards has begun," said Ishmael Ag Mohamed, one of six kidnapped by the
gunmen, who freed the group soon after.
Mohamed said they were abducted by the ethnic Tuareg
separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
"I recognised not only the car but also the local head
of the MNLA," he said.
Sunday's polls are seen as vital to reuniting the country
after a Tuareg uprising last year led to a military coup and a sweeping
offensive by Islamists who captured the entire north before being flushed out
by French and African troops.
Mohamed said he was optimistic that Tessalit, a desert town
in the flashpoint Kidal region, birthplace of a Tuareg rebellion, could
participate in the election.
Peace and reconciliation
An source from the United Nations peacekeeping force in
Kidal said the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping, Ag Baye Diknane, was
questioned by the UN and French forces but had to be released, because they had
no mandate to make arrests.
The town of Kidal, 250km south of Tessalit, was also quiet
on Monday following clashes on Thursday and Friday between Tuaregs and black
civilians in which four people died.
The violence and kidnappings have raised fears that the
Kidal region would be too unstable to take part in the election, a prerequisite
for the result to be seen as credible in deeply-divided Mali.
A delegation from the MNLA and another Tuareg group, the
High Council for the Unity of Azawad, held talks on Sunday with Mali's interim president
Dioncounda Traore, discussing possibilities for peace and reconciliation.
The talks were set to resume on Monday when both sides will
evaluate a peace deal signed by the rebels and the Malian government last