BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali will hold its presidential election on time in April despite a heavily armed Tuareg rebellion in the north that has killed scores of people and displaced thousands more, President Amadou Toumani Toure said on Sunday.
The surge of fighting in an area already struggling to tackle the presence of local al Qaeda agents had raised concerns that the election might have to be postponed. The first round is due on April 29.
“We are already used to holding elections during war, and during Tuareg rebellions,” Toure said on national radio, referring to past polls during Tuareg uprisings in the 1990s. “Whatever the difficulty, you must have a president, elected legally and legitimately.”
Dozens have been reported killed and tens of thousands have fled their homes since separatist Tuareg fighters bolstered by weapons and men from Libya’s war, started attacking army bases in Mali’s desert last month.
The fighting is the most serious fallout yet from the Libyan war on the fragile Sahel region, whose resources include gold, oil and uranium.
Toure has pledged to step down as leader of the West African country after the election and has faced a wave of domestic anger for not doing enough to crack down on the rebellion.
The United Nations and allies including former colonial power France have called for a ceasefire and negotiations, though they have backed Mali’s rejection of the rebels’ goal of outright independence for three northern regions.