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Mali’s new president faces separatist rebellion

Malian voters elected Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Malian voters elected Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

BAMAKO, Mali — Mali’s new president-elect, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, is presented with the challenge of finding a resolution to the simmering separatist rebellion in the country’s north.

Keita won Mali’s presidency late Monday when his opponent, Soumaila Cisse, conceded defeat before official election results were released.

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Based on Keita’s recent campaign visit to the rebels’ stronghold, though, it looks like the path to reconciliation will not be an easy one.

Rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad — the name they give to their homeland — tried to block Keita’s plane from landing. When that failed, they hurled stones at his parked jet to show their disapproval.

Keita will not have much time to prepare for negotiations: Under an agreement signed in June, talks with the separatist Tuareg rebels are supposed to take place within 60 days of the new government’s formation. With Keita’s inauguration set for mid-September, the dialogue could start by the end of November.

The talks are expected to be ‘‘extremely politically sensitive,’’ said Bruce Whitehouse, a Bamako-based Mali specialist who teaches at Lehigh University. Keita might be effective in the talks, said Whitehouse.

‘‘He’s somebody who can sort of straddle the fence and appeal to different groups at the same time,’’ he said. ‘‘He might be well positioned to make some difficult, risky moves and still be able to represent himself as doing the right thing by the Malian people.’’

Many voters say they want Keita to take an uncompromising position with the
NMLA as they blame the separatists for creating Mali’s political disaster. Army soldiers who were unhappy with former president Amadou Toumani Toure’s handling of the rebellion launched a March 2012 coup, and the power vacuum allowed Al Qaeda-linked militants to take a hold of northern Mali.

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