France told the United Nations General Assembly Monday it was “imperative” Mali stick to its election timetable, after the country’s premier said a planned vote may be delayed.
Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga told AFP in an interview Sunday that presidential and legislative elections scheduled for February 27 next year could be postponed by months.
“It is imperative to respect” the schedule, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a pre-recorded video address.
The elections, promised by strongman Colonel Assimi Goita, are aimed at restoring civilian rule following a coup in August last year against elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Maiga said the vote could be delayed by “two weeks, two months, a few months” to ensure they are credible.
Le Drian’s video was submitted to the UN last week before Maiga’s fiery address to the assembly on Saturday, in which he accused France of “abandoning” Mali with a planned troop drawdown.
“In the Sahel, we are adapting our military system to remain able to act in the long term,” said Le Drian.
“This effort, which translates into real (military) results, will not be sustainable, however, without political stability and respect for the democratic path,” he warned.
France is due to reduce its troops in the Sahel region from 5,000 to 2,500 or 3,000 by 2023, as it reorganizes its presence around a tighter unit centered on targeted strikes against jihadist leaders and on supporting local troops.
Mali, which is struggling with a bloody conflict with jihadists, has approached the controversial Russian private security firm Wagner to make up for France’s drawdown.
Paris has warned Mali against hiring the paramilitaries, saying their involvement would be incompatible with France’s presence in the violence-torn country.