by Staff Writers
Bamako (AFP) Dec 12, 2012
Mali's new Prime Minister Diango Cissoko started drawing up a new unity government Wednesday that could bring the consensus needed to launch a foreign military intervention in the Islamist-occupied north.
While Cissoko pledged to regain control of the country's north, international condemnation poured in over the ouster of his predecessor Cheick Modibo Diarra and meddling by a former junta still seen as pulling the strings in the capital.
The new premier has not mentioned the international force which has been mired in uncertainty, but observers say Diarra was seen as an obstacle to reaching consensus and a new government could pave the way to its deployment.
EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton on Wednesday hailed Cissoko's nomination, saying that he was a gifted negotiator with good knowledge of Mali's political scene who had an ability to bring people together.
Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group told AFP that "optimistically" Cissoko could "unblock the situation. He is a more reliable, competent and impartial representative than Diarra was."
France, the United States, United Nations, African and European Union have roundly condemned the way in which Diarra resigned and urged the military to stop meddling in political affairs.
The regional bloc ECOWAS' chief mediator, Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore said Wednesday that Diarra's resignation had not "respected the rules of law."
"But we hope that a new government will be set up very soon and will begin work with great determination to ensure a more fruitful internal dialogue and mobilise the full spectrum of Mali's political and social forces to deal with this crisis."
The United Nations Security Council, which is awaiting more details on the mission before giving it the green-light, has said it remains committed to "authorising as soon as possible the deployment of an African-led international support mission in Mali."
France, a staunch backer of the military option to drive out the Islamists, said the most recent turmoil in Bamako "underlines the need to deploy an African stabilisation force."
Cissoko, a veteran public servant, was swiftly appointed by interim leader Dioncounda Traore after Diarra's strongarmed resignation on Tuesday, and vowed his priority was to regain control of the north from Islamists.
"The priority is the recovery of the north and the organisation of elections.... I want to create a government of national unity," Cissoko told AFP.
"I want to tell Malians that they must get together, because it's only a unified people that can confront their problems."
Interim authorities in Bamako have remained deadlocked and powerless in the wake of the occupation of the north by Al-Qaeda linked extremists who piggybacked on a Tuareg rebellion that kicked off in January.
A March coup by frustrated soldiers did not fail to stop the rebel advance, and Islamists seized the vast north in a matter of days, later chasing out their Tuareg allies.
They have since implemented a brutal form of sharia law, flogging, stoning and amputating the hands of transgressors.
Alarmed by the growing threat of having "terrorist groups" occupying an area larger than France, western powers' interest in driving out the Islamists grew.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) proposed a force of 3,300 regional troops to intervene, and European countries as well as the United States have offered logistical support and training.
The plan has been approved in principle by the United Nations which wants more details on its capabilities and financing.
However deep divisions remain in Bamako and west Africa between those who want a negotiated solution and those who seek the military option.
UN experts warn that any deployment is unlikely for another nine months.
Diarra's resignation came a day after the EU approved plans to deploy a military training mission of some 250 troops to Mali to help the government regain control of the vast semi-desert north.
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