Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore
Mali's new foreign minister said Tuesday that winning back the Islamist-occupied north was the top priority of a unity government which was formed on orders from West African mediators.
"The priority is re-conquest, the liberation of the north from dark forces currently occupying it," said Tieman Coulibaly, who was appointed as foreign minister on Monday, joining 12 other new cabinet members in the government shake-up, reports AFP.
He was speaking in an interview with French International Radio (RFI).
The new government, announced by presidential decree on Monday, saw six ministers booted out of their positions in an administration formed to take over from a military junta that took power in a March coup.
Once one of the region's most stable democracies, Mali has crumbled into despair since President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown by the military.
The ensuing political turmoil allowed Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels to wrest control of the vast desert north, an area larger than France or Texas, where they have enforced strict sharia law.
The new government was formed after an order from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediators. Embattled interim authorities stood by helplessly as the Islamists deepened their hold on the north.
Controversial Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra remains at the head of government despite calls for his resignation from much of Mali's political class who accused him of incompetence and having no plan to win back the north.
Interim President Dioncounda Traore in August declared his confidence in his prime minister, a renowned astrophycisist and former chairman of Microsoft Africa.
It is hoped the more inclusive government will be able to come up with a solution to win back the north, including requesting the deployment of some 3,000 troops made available by ECOWAS.
The national unity government is made up of 31 ministers of almost all political shades including four women.
It includes a new ministry of religious affairs, allies of the prime minister as well as retaining military members close to the former junta in their respective roles as defence, security and territorial administration ministers.