After pleading with the outside world to intervene, French troops arrived to help the Malian government re-establish control in the northern part of the country - pushing out al-Qaeda-linked groups who had been siding with Tuareg tribes in their bid for independence.

The man who is now at the head of the French efforts is someone I've known for many years, President Francois Hollande .... I know what kind of man he is. It is truly unfair to think of him as having even an ounce of colonial intentions.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the president of Mali

The desire of the Tuareg tribes to run their own affairs has been a long-running source of irritation for the central government in Bamako. Opponents of that government allege that the country's previous leadership used all means necessary - including al-Qaeda-linked groups - to fight the Tuareg rebellion.

It is an allegation that the country's new president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, calls "totally unfounded".

"For me, when any Malian is killed, it is horrible, it is a terrible mistake," Keita tells Talk to Al Jazeera. "We have to live together and make peace. That is the destiny of Mali. Mali will only survive if it stands united, if all its citizens join hands to rebuild their country for the sake of all its regions, including the north. That is the vocation of Mali and my own mission."

Talks between Keita's government and the rebels have, in principle, been agreed upon. But, so far, progress has been difficult to see.

So, is there a risk that tensions will erupt again? And what threats will the country's new leadership face when the French leave, as they plan to this spring?

Talk to Al Jazeera puts these questions to the president of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Source: Al Jazeera