US warns Malians against reprisals on Tuaregs
The United States on Wednesday echoed calls that Malians should refrain from revenge attacks on ethnic minorities as French troops help liberate key towns from Islamic militants and rebels.
French troops arrived at the Kidal airport on Wednesday just days after the capture of Gao and Timbuktu in a whirlwind three-week campaign that Paris hopes to wind down and hand over to African forces.
Washington welcomed the swiftness of the offensive, but warned of challenges ahead, as the French help Malian troops reclaim swathes of land seized in recent months by Islamic militants and Tuareg rebels.
"We echo the calls that Malians are making, that French are making, urging Malian private citizens to refrain from retaliating against Tuaregs or other ethnic minorities," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
She said the challenge was now "not only to ensure that these cities that have been regained, and towns, can be held, but that the international mission... moves in behind Malian forces and the French to stabilize northern Mali, to go after the rebels... ensure that they can't come back and regroup."
The United States has now earmarked some $96 million to help support African-led forces due to move in and take over from the French.
Washington is also urging the interim government in Bamako to hold elections as soon as possible, but "we also have to appreciate that they can't be held until they are technically feasible."
The Malian parliament on Tuesday adopted a political roadmap which included a commitment to holding elections by July 31.
"It'll be important to meet that target in terms of security," Nuland stressed.