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Mali Tuaregs reject army presence in bastion for July vote


Mali's main Tuareg separatist group said Wednesday it supported the holding of a nationwide presidential poll in July but ruled out allowing the army in its northern bastion of Kidal for the vote.

A delegation from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) held talks in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, with the region's lead mediator in the Malian crisis, Djibrill Bassole.

"We told him that we want both parties -- the MNLA and the Bamako authorities -- to respect the July 28 date set by Mali's interim president for the presidential election," MNLA envoy Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh.

"We suggest that security during the vote be guaranteed by UN troops... because no Azawad citizen can elect the future president of Mali under the protection of Mali's terrorist army," he added.

The northern city of Kidal is controlled by the MNLA and the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA), a smaller group that broke away from the Islamist Ansar Dine group.

Azawad is the name Tuaregs used to refer to the northern half of Mali which their consider to be their heartland and for whose independence rebel groups have fought for years.

It was the MNLA that launched a military offensive against the government in January 2012, quickly conquering much of the north on the back of a coup by renegade soldiers in Bamako.

However the Tuareg separatists were soon overpowered by Ansar Dine and other groups with links to Al Qaeda, which imposed an extreme form of Sharia in the region and destroyed world heritage sites.

France sent jets and troops in January 2013 when the Islamists threatened to push south towards the capital Bamako and the embattled MNLA sided with the foreign troops.

France is slowly scaling down its military operations in Mali after breaking the back of the most radical Islamist cells and a UN force of mainly regional troops is expected to step in.