Ex-diplomat to head Mali reconciliation commission

Mali's interim president on Saturday appointed a former government minister and retired ambassador to head a new commission tasked with fostering reconciliation in the conflict-torn west African nation.

Interim leader Dioncounda Traore named Mohamed Salia Sokona to chair the recently created Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission (DRC).

Sokona was armed forces minister from 1997 to 2000 and Mali's ambassador to Burkina Faso and Niger from 2000 to 2003, then to France until 2010.

Toure Oumou Traore, who heads a coalition of women's groups, becomes first vice-chairman of the commission, while Meti Ag Mohamed Rhissa, a customs officer from the minority Tuareg group, is second vice-chairman.

Announcing the setting up of the DRC on March 6, the government said it would have 30 members in addition to the chairman and two vice-chairmen. A source close to the president's office told AFP that the names of the other members would be made known next week.

The DRC's mission, according to the government, is to "seek reconciliation between all the Malian communities through dialogue."

Mali was split in two last year after army captain Amadou Sanogo led a group of mid-level officers to overthrow then-president Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, upending what had been considered one of west Africa's most stable democracies.

The coup paved the way for Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants to seize vast swathes of northern Mali, prompting a military intervention by French and African troops launched on January 11.

The French-led operation has chased the rebels from the region's main cities.

However, fighting continues in desert areas of northeastern Mali, where armed Islamists are entrenched, and many obstacles still block Traore's plan to hold elections in July.