Mali's transitional government prime minister has promised that elections will go ahead in July despite fears that his
government is failing to reassert control after the ousting of rebel fighters.
Diango Sissoko, speaking to reporters in Gao on a visit to the region on Thursday, said that there is "no question over the holding of elections in July".
"All the necessary steps are being and will be taken," Sissoko said.
Sissoko's visit to Gao was the first by a senior government figure since a French-led campaign in the town, the northern Mali's largest, in January.
Some 4,000 French troops, fighting alongside Mali's army and a regional African force AFISMA, have pushed the rebel fighters back into desert and mountain hideaways.
With France aiming to cut its military presence to 1,000 soldiers by year-end, the first 120 arrived back in France on
Paris is pushing for presidential and legislative elections in three months.
But, analysts fear that preparations will not be completed by July and warn that a botched election could sow the seeds for further unrest and north-south conflict in the landlocked former French colony.
Mali has seen continued fighting for a year, rocked by a Tuareg rebellion, an occupation of the north of the country by rebel fighters and a military coup.
A suicide bomber killed at least three Chadian soldiers in Mali on Friday, military sources said, in a deadly demonstration of the troubled nation's ongoing security crisis days after France began withdrawing its troops.
The soldiers were shopping in the northern city of Kidal when an Islamist bomber struck, according to Malian and Chadian sources who gave a provisional toll of three soldiers killed and four wounded.
"Three Chadian soldiers were killed in an attack Friday in Kidal. It was jihadists who did it. The toll is still provisional," a Malian military source told AFP news agency while a Chadian source spoke of "three Chadian soldiers killed and
four others injured".
No details were initially available on how the attack was carried out.
Hundreds of thousands of Malians have been displaced by the fighting and the north remains vulnerable to guerrilla-style counter attacks, despite the presence of thousands of African troops under the AFISMA banner.
This is expected to become the backbone for a proposed 11,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission.
Tuareg rebels remain in control of Kidal, a key town near the border with Algeria, complicating the political process.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) say they are willing to drop their claims of independence for northern Mali in return for greater regional autonomy.
They have so far rejected calls to disarm and begin political negotiations and have accused the Malian army of
carrying out revenge attacks on ethnic Tuaregs.
Human Rights Watch said on Thursday two Tuareg men arrested in February had died after being tortured by Malian soldiers in the town of Lere, near Timbuktu.
The Malian army also announced the arrest of the mayor of the northern town of Tarkint, Baba Ould Cheick, in connection with cocaine trafficking on Thursday.
Cheick was a negotiator for the release of several hostages captured by al-Qaeda's north African branch AQIM.