After winning adulation across Mali for a five-month military offensive that crushed Al Qaeda fighters, France is now frustrating some of its allies by pushing for a political settlement with a separate group of Tuareg rebels.
A standoff over how to restore Malian government authority to Kidal, the last town in the desert north yet to be brought under central control, is sowing resentment with Paris and could delay planned elections to restore democracy after a coup.
Mali’s army has moved troops towards Kidal, a stronghold of the MNLA Tuareg separatists, but missed a self-imposed deadline this week to retake the Saharan town.
France, which has its own forces camped outside, does not want Malian troops to march on the town, fearing ethnic bloodshed if it is taken by force.
Elections are planned for July in Mali to finally restore normalcy after a chaotic 18 months that saw Tuaregs launch a revolt, the military carry out a coup, Al Qaeda-linked Islamists seize the north and 4,000 French troops arrive to dislodge them.