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The French military signed a deal to protect the new UN peacekeeping force in Mali against terrorist attacks. The body of slain French hostage Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2011, has reportedly been found in northern Mali. AQIM announced in March that it had executed him in retaliation for the French intervention in Mali.

Drones in Niger Reflect New US Tack on Terrorism

Election campaigns kick off in war-torn Mali

The government lifted the state of emergency that had been imposed since Jan. 12, the day after the start of the French intervention to recover territory seized by Islamists in the north. Authorities are scrambling to prepare for presidential elections on July 28; some 500,000 Malians are still displaced from the turmoil that began over a year ago.

Some 200 Malian soldiers arrived in the Tuareg stronghold of Kidal, under a peace deal in which the Tuareg MNLA agreed to remove all roadblocks, refrain from carrying weapons in public, and return to their barracks under the supervision of UN peacekeepers. MNLA supporters protested the soldiers' arrival in Kidal; a larger detachment is expected soon to bolster the small force.

Foreign Minister Coulibaly said elections scheduled for July 28 would proceed and that voter registration of Malian refugees in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania was underway. French soldiers are continuing to search for weapons and explosives left by jihadists in the mountainous Ifhogas region of northern Mali; "tons" have already been found, including Russian-made rockets.

Some 6,300 West African troops were "re-hatted" as the new United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, called MINUSMA; the force will grow to its full strength of 12,640 by December. France has slowed its withdrawal and will have between 3,000 and 3,500 troops in the country at the time of the nationwide election in late July. The government began distributing biometric voter cards for the July 28 election; 15 candidates are running for president.

The UN Security Council unanimously approved the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in Mali, called MINUSMA, for July 1. The force will take over from and incorporate much of the existing UN-backed African force currently in Mali. The new UN force is expected to reach full capacity by Dec. 31, but presently faces critical shortages of special forces, intelligence, information operations, and helicopters. The peacekeeping activities of the new force will be backed by French counterterrorism operations.

A government mission arrived in Kidal to lay groundwork for the return of Malian security forces. The mission arrived a week after an agreement was signed with the separatist Tuareg MNLA to allow the return of government forces to the area.

Failure to understand Islam at root of extremism, terrorism in Sahel, says Mechria

An interim agreement has been reached between the Malian government and the separatist Tuareg MNLA to allow the Malian military to assert control over the northern region, including Kidal, before elections on July 28, to be followed by the Malian civilian administration. The accord, which was signed today, imposes an immediate ceasefire and also calls for all armed groups in the north to lay down their weapons.

Niger's Bad Dream Approaches As Islamists Set Sights On Niamey

Terrorism knows no border

Terrorist threat looms over Mauritania

Timbuktu damage to Mali historic sites 'underestimated'

Mali manual suggests al-Qaida has feared weapon

A senior mediator at talks in Burkina Faso between the Malian government and the separatist Tuareg MNLA said both sides have agreed "in principle" to allow presidential elections to take place in July and the army to return to Kidal. A 26-page manual found in Timbuktu earlier this year confirms that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was training fighters to use man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS, and suggests that the group now possesses the SA-7 surface-to-air missile.

Talks got underway yesterday in Burkina Faso between representatives of the Malian government and the separatist Tuareg MNLA, which is resisting government efforts to retake the northern city of Kidal. Rights groups have reported recent abuses by both the Malian army and the MNLA.

Al-Qaeda swaps Mali for Libya

Malian troops took the town of Anefis from Tuareg MNLA forces yesterday after intense fighting, and are advancing toward the MNLA stronghold of Kidal. The MNLA has refused to surrender weapons or relinquish claims to parts of northern Mali. France's Foreign Ministry said it supported the Malian government's attempt to establish control of the entire country.