BAMAKO (Reuters) - A Malian newspaper editor who published an open letter criticizing the leader of last year's military coup has been charged with incitement to revolt, the head of Mali's written press association said.
Boukary Daou was detained on March 6 after the letter in his Le Republicain newspaper targeted Captain Amadou Sanogo, whose coup ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure and left a power vacuum allowing Islamist rebels to seize the northern two-thirds of Mali.
A two-month-old French-led offensive has since driven the rebels out of northern cities and back into remote desert.
Daou's detention by intelligence services suggested the coup leaders retained tight control over state security under a transitional civilian government in the West African state.
"The prosecutor remanded (Daou) in custody for incitement to desertion and incitement to revolt," press association chief Alexis Kalambry told Reuters.
Mali's private media walked out for three days last week in protest at Daou's arrest. They still refuse to cover official government business in news reports.
Interim President Dioncounda Traore, installed by the coup leaders, has promised to organize national elections by the end of July to cement a transition back to democracy.
Many doubt, however, whether unrest in northern Mali can be quelled and government administration re-established by that deadline. In the far north around Kidal, the pro-autonomy Tuareg MNLA movement has sought to exert its authority, implementing its own roadblocks and security passes.
With France and its African allies still battling pockets of Islamist resistance, Paris said late on Monday that 15 militants had been killed and eight of their heavily armed pick-up trucks destroyed in an operation near the northern town of Gao.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said it was stepping up supplies of food assistance to northern Mali, which had been cut off since the conflict flared a year ago.
It said that more than 270,000 people had been displaced within Mali, while more than 170,000 refugees had fled to neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, where the WFP and its partners are providing food relief.
The armed conflict in Mali has exacerbated a cycle of drought and food shortages in the arid Sahel band stretching east to west across Africa below the Sahara desert.
The WFP said it had a budget of $611 million to aid 5.5 million people in eight countries - Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and The Gambia - affected by the Mali conflict and a drought last year.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Daniel Flynn and Mark Heinrich)