BAMAKO, Mali — The governor of a key city in northern Mali that was under rebel control until last week returned for the first time since the region fell to Tuareg separatists and al-Qaida-linked fighters 16 months ago.
Col. Adama Kamissoko arrived by plane around midday Thursday accompanied by Malian and U.N. officials, vowing to prepare Kidal for a highly anticipated election at the end of the month.
"I am very happy to be back in this part of the country, and the message I am bringing to the population is to turn out in large numbers for the presidential election so they can elect a president of their choice," Kamissoko said.
Like the rest of northern Mali, Kidal fell to a mixture of rebel groups following a military coup in March 2012. France launched a military intervention in January, driving the rebels out of all the other major towns.
But Tuareg rebels re-entered Kidal in February and March of this year, erecting roadblocks, levying taxes and creating a de facto Tuareg state.
After intense international wrangling, the Tuareg groups controlling Kidal signed an agreement at a summit last month in Burkina Faso, paving the way for the return of Mali's military on July 5.
The agreement was seen as removing one of the major obstacles to the upcoming election planned for July 28.
Kamissoko said Thursday that preparing for the election would be his first order of business now that he is back on the job.
"Upon our arrival, my team has begun working on the electoral and distribution lists for Kidal and the other cities in the region," he said.
Not everyone believes that preparations will be completed on time.
Tiebile Drame, a former government minister who represented Mali in the Burkina Faso talks last month, said this week that it would be impossible to organize a vote in Kidal by July 28. He has submitted a formal request to the Constitutional Court for a delay to the election.
Meanwhile, Tuareg leaders have indicated they are unhappy with the implementation of the deal brokered with the Malian government last month.
Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, vice president of the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, said arbitrary arrests of Tuaregs had continued, citing the case of two men he said were arrested Wednesday when they traveled to the town of Mopti to obtain their voting cards.
Maiga estimated 700 Tuaregs remained incarcerated in southern Mali, even though last month's accord included an agreement to work toward the liberation of many of those who were detained during the struggle for the north.
"The accord could be under threat because the concessions are only coming from our side," Maiga said.
He said he wanted mediators at last month's talks to ask Mali's government to free remaining Tuareg prisoners.
AP writer Brahima Ouedraogo contributed reporting from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.