In a rare show of unity, Mali’s main political parties have welcomed the interim government’s announcement of the 28 July 2013 presidential elections. Meanwhile in neighbouring Niger, French nuclear group Areva has indicated that operations at its uranium mine will continue as usual despite last week’s terrorist attacks. While France’s top diplomat has urged neighbouring countries to find a solution to deal with the growing terrorist threat that is emerging from southern Libya.
The country’s interim cabinet official confirmed for the first time the date of the polls, which are seen as essential in restoring democracy after the country suffered a coup last year, which effectively paved the way for Islamist rebels to seize control of the northern region. Amadou Dire, a member of acting President Dioncounda Traore’s Alliance for Democracy in Mali has stated that “we need a short transition, we need an elected president to deal with the challenges and it was a good thing to make public the date of the presidential election.” The National Congress for Democratic Initiative, which was neutral in the coup but which had originally argued for a later vote, has come out in support of the decision to go ahead with the elections in July. A number of officials have indicated that the unity amongst the disparate parties over the date of the elections could be explained by the fact that there is a broad consensus that moving away from the transitional government is an urgent issue. President Traore was appointed interim president of Mali following the coup which occurred on 22 March 2012 and which precipitated the fall of northern Mali to the Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists. However the Tuareg rebels were soon overpowered by the Islamist militants, who imposed an extreme form of Sharia law throughout the region. Fifteen presidential hopefuls have announced their candidacy, including former prime ministers Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Modibo Sidibe. A number of other prominent political officials have also declared their candidacies. Polling booths are planned for the entire country, even the northeastern city of Kidal, which remains to be under the control of armed Tuareg separatists who have refused to consent to the presence of the Malian army and government in the region.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Niger, French nuclear group Areva has indicated that it will maintain its operations in the country despite last week’s deadly car bomb attack which occurred at its uranium mine. Areva president Luc Oursel confirmed that the company would be staying in Niger. Asked if the attack would lead to a change in Areva’s strategy in Arica, Mr. Oursel stated “no, of course not. We are obviously very sad about the death of one of our employees. We condemn this.” He further stated that “ I was in Niger, I went last week to show our determination to stay. If we leave Niger, we will do exactly what they wanted. We know our responsibility in terms of economic development, in terms of jobs.” Areva, which is the world’s second largest uranium producer, extracts more than a third of its uranium in Niger. It has operated in the country for more than forty years, operating to large mines in the northern regions of the country through two affiliated companies: Cominak and Somair. A car bomb attack that was carried out at Areva’s majority-owned uranium mine in Arlit in northern Niger last Thursday resulted in one person being killed and fourteen others injured. All of them were Nigerian nationals who were working at the facility. A second bombing was carried out that same day at an army base in Agadez, also in northern Niger. That resulted in twenty-four people being killed in addition to the eight attackers who were killed. Two Islamist groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks, calling them retaliations for Niger’s decision to deploy troops to Mali to help the French-led campaign against al-Qaeda-linked insurgents. Since the two suicide bombings, France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius has called on neighbouring countries in the region to work together in order to tackle threats from “terrorist groups.” His announcement comes just days after Niger’s President indicated that the Islamist militants were suspected of coming from southern Libya. According to President Mahamadou Issoufou, the raids in Niger had demonstrated that Libya was a source of regional instability, months after France launched an air-and-ground assault on northern Mali, which Paris warned had developed into a launchpad for attacks by al-Qaeda-linked groups. During a press conference, President Issoufou indicated that “according to the information we have, the attackers came from southern Libya.” He further indicated that “I know the Libyan authorities are trying hard. But Libya continues to be a source of instability.” Although he did not give details on who the gunmen were, Mokhtar Belmokhtar has stated that his brigade had organized the raid with the MUJAO militant group. However Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has since denied these claims. Thousands of gunmen and tons of weapons and ammunition flowed south, mainly to Mali, after the fall of Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. A mix of Islamist and separatist rebels then seized control of the northern region of Mali before the French operation launched in January dislodged them from the towns they controlled. According to a number of officials, in recent months southern Libya has become a safe haven for jihadists who have been forced from Mali. In recent weeks, Niger has increasingly warned that Libya was the next potential safe haven for militants. This has prompted France to urge Libya and its neighbors to deal accordingly with the growing threat. According to Laurent Fabius, “it seems we must make a special effort on southern Libya, which is also what Libya wants.” France’s top diplomat further indicated that he had discussed “measures that could be taken by neighbouring countries” in liaison with Libya to deal with possible actions by “terrorist groups.” Mr. Fabius added that “this is also what the Libyan prime minister wants…we will see how we can encourage joint action with the Libyans.”