Mali’s rulers pressured to hold vote

Canada is telling Mali’s military rulers to get on with the work of restoring democracy to the West African country following a coup last March. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has told Canada’s ambassador to Mali to formally deliver that diplomatic message to Malian officials.

OTTAWA, Ont. — Canada is telling Mali’s military rulers to get on with the work of restoring democracy to the West African country following a coup last March.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has told Canada’s ambassador to Mali to formally deliver that diplomatic message to Malian officials.

An aide to Baird also says Ambassador Louis de Lormier will tell officials that the instability caused by the March 2012 coup allowed an al-Qaida affiliated group to take control of the country’s north.

“The coup in March 2012 undermined Mali’s progress as a democracy and provided Islamist extremists with a window that has had devastating consequences,” says Baird’s spokesman Rick Roth.

Canada wants Mali to hold free and fair elections as soon as possible to restore international confidence.

“We want to encourage them not to lose sight of, or minimize, the need for Mali to return to democratic and constitutional rule,” said Roth.

“This means holding elections that are free and fair at the earliest practical opportunity.”

Canada is also sending a C-17 heavy-lift military transport to support the French military, which is trying to stop the advance of the insurgents.

Mali was a stable West African country until last year’s coup, which set off a chain of events that allowed a terrorist group set up a base in the country’s north.

“Canada supports the return of a government in Mali whose political legitimacy is achieved through free and fair elections as endorsed by the Security Council,” said Roth.

“Any legitimate government of Mali must restore confidence of both the people of Mali, as well as the international community and strive towards political stability.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week that Canada would pursue diplomatic and humanitarian options to help the people of Mali.

But he essentially rejected a request by the visiting chair of the African Union to push NATO to help African countries in their fight against the insurgent group in the north.

Harper announced Canada’s contribution of the C-17 on Monday, after Mali’s president tweeted a day earlier that Canada, the United States and Britain would be providing logistical support.

Harper stressed Monday that none of the Canadian military personnel that fly on the airplane would be drawn into any fighting with insurgents in Mali.

Some critics, including Robert Fowler, Canada’s former ambassador to the UN and a former hostage of the North African terrorists, have strongly urged the government to get involved militarily to keep a terrorist group from gaining a foothold in an actual country.

They argue that Canada went to war in Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaida from doing just that, but are now standing back from an even greater problem in Mali.

The Canadian Forces are making contingency preparations in anticipation of a greater military role.

But so far the Harper government has not made any military commitment beyond the contribution of one non-combat aircraft.

“We have seen a deterioration of the security situation in Mali,” Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Tuesday.

“Canada has a history of having supported Mali in the past. We have an obvious interest at stake in seeing stability and democracy returned to that country.”

MacKay said Canada also has a long-standing relationship with its NATO ally, France, and that it was answering its specific request to provide much-needed airlift.

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