UN chief urges Mali's leaders 'not to go backwards' in election row

Malian opposition leader SoumaIila Cisse, pictured August 13, 2018, has rejected the outcome of the presidential election and vowed to appeal to the constitutional court

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has spoken by phone with Mali's leaders to urge them "not to go backwards" following contentious elections in the strife-torn West African country, a spokesman said Thursday.

Official results showed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was re-elected in the runoff held Sunday, but opposition challenger Soumaila Cisse rejected the outcome and vowed to appeal to the constitutional court.

During separate phone calls with Keita and Cisse on Wednesday, Guterres "underlined the need to always keep the Malian people first, and not to go backwards on the reconciliation effort at a crucial moment," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

"He underlined that the elections happened and that it is of utmost importance for disputes to be resolved by legal means and political dialogue."

Guterres said his envoy for Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif of Chad, was ready to mediate in the election dispute.

Mali has been struggling to return to stability after Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaeda jihadists took control of the north of the country in early 2012, prompting France to intervene militarily to drive them out.

A peace deal between the government and armed groups was signed in 2015, but implementation has been slow and attacks have continued in the center and north of the country.

The United Nations has deployed about 12,000 troops and police in its MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali, which ranks as the most dangerous for blue helmets.

Keita, 73, picked up 67.17 percent of the vote against 32.83 for Cisse, a 68-year-old former finance minister who also ran against Keita in 2013. Turnout was low, at 34.5 percent.