Long-delayed interim authority installed in north Mali
An interim authority for Mali's troubled northern Kidal region, a stronghold of the former Tuareg rebellion, was finally installed on Tuesday, the first step toward improving security enough to allow local elections.
The creation of interim bodies in four other northern regions is scheduled for later this week, a government statement said.
Hassan Ag Fagaga, a former army deserter and president of the CMA rebel alliance, was inaugurated as president of Kigal's new regional council.
"The task which has been conferred on me is not simple, and I require the support of everyone to succeed," said Ag Fagaga, quoted by a witness.
The ceremony was attended by dignitaries including rebel representatives as well as officials from France, the United States, Algeria, the African Union and the European Union.
Officials from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, were also present as the ceremony went ahead under tight surveillance by UN forces and their French colleagues from a regional anti-insurgent force.
After Kidal, the authorities are set to begin work in Gao and Menaka in the northeast on Thursday, followed by Timbuktu in the northwest and Taoudenni in the far north on Friday, according to an official statement.
Tuareg-led rebels led an uprising in 2012 that was hijacked by jihadists, throwing northern Mali into chaos.
The rebels broke with the jihadists to sign an accord with the government in 2015.
The rollout of the interim authorities has been long delayed, largely over disagreements on the choice of officials.
But talks on February 10 between the government, pro-Bamako militias and the former rebels yielded a definitive timeline for the local officials to take up their posts.
The authorities will represent local people until security improves sufficiently to allow local elections.
They will also look to aid thousands of displaced people, who fled their homes during the unrest, to return.
An AFP photographer said the situation was still tense in Gao, although there has as yet been no violence, as opposition to the choice of some of the interim officials continues.
Several armed groups last week protested in the ancient city of Timbuktu against the authority, highlighting schisms within Mali's complex web of militias.
One resident told AFP: "These people are being foisted on us."
The protests came against a backdrop of jihadist unrest.
Ever since the 2015 peace deal was signed, rival armed groups have repeatedly violated the ceasefire, threatening attempts to give the north a measure of autonomy to prevent separatist uprisings.