President wishes Malians 'peace, nothing but peace'

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita wished 15 million Malians "peace, nothing but peace" as he delivered a New Year greeting Tuesday at the end of one of the most turbulent years in the west African nation's history.

"I only want peace, nothing but peace in all regions of Mali, in all communities of Mali, which must take control of their development in a state that will no longer be a Jacobin, a centraliser, but rather a distributor and regulator," he said in a televised address.

Al-Qaeda-linked extremists upended Mali in a sweeping offensive in 2012, occupying its northern half for nine months and imposing a barbaric, ultra-conservative version of Islamic sharia on the region's mainly Arab and Tuareg populations.

The Islamists were driven out by a French-led military intervention launched in January, but continue to infest the vast northern desert, launching sporadic but deadly attacks on Malian troops and United Nations peacekeepers.

Tuareg separatists -- former allies of the Islamists -- also pose a threat, notably in the northern district of Kidal, the headquarters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an insurgent group fighting for an independent homeland.

Keita said one of the country's biggest challenges in 2014 would be to build "a well-trained republican army equipped to respond to security threats".

"The other challenge is that of total and permanent return of state control over the entire territory," he added.

He called for the MNLA to be confined to camps, as agreed in a peace accord between the separatists and the state ahead of his August election, and said their laying down of arms was the only route to a lasting peace.

The president thanked "all those who helped liberate and bring relief to our people", singling out French President Francois Hollande and his Chadian counterpart Idriss Deby, whose army was at the forefront of the operation alongside the French.