Cut links to al-Qaeda ahead of peace talks, mediator urges Mali rebels
MALIAN rebels have been told to cut links to terror networks such as al-Qaeda to allow peace talks to begin.
Djibril Bassolé, the foreign minister of Burkina Faso, is leading attempts by West African bloc Ecowas to broker a truce.
Ecowas – the Economic community of West African states – made contact with the rebels in May but diplomatic efforts have recently regained priority after plans for military intervention stalled.
The rebels are mainly Islamist militants who hijacked a secular Tuareg rebellion in the north of Mali earlier this year, ahead of a 22 March coup in the southern capital Bamako which ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure.
Mr Bassolé met the leaders of Ansar Dine, which has links to al-Qaeda, in Kidal on Tuesday. He also stopped in Gao but did not meet leaders of MUJWA, the Islamist group occupying the town, residents said.
“We can only promote dialogue at this stage, and we are doing everything we can to create the conditions for dialogue,” he said on his return to Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.
“We reiterated our condition of a delimitation between Ansar Dine and terrorist movements. There hasn’t yet been a formal declaration of a breaking off of operational links, but we didn’t see anything that established direct collaboration,” he said.
Niger, which shares a border with Islamist-controlled areas, said on Tuesday its soldiers had killed four gunmen who attempted to cross into its territory to carry out a kidnapping.
Niger has led African calls for swift action to prevent extremist groups, including al-Qaeda and Nigeria’s Boko Haram, from consolidating their positions across the continent’s loosely governed Sahara-Sahel band.
Niger’s foreign minister, Bazoum Mohamed, expressed doubt this week about the likelihood of successful negotiations with Ansar Dine and MUJWA.
“A force like that has no room for any kind of dialogue. They don’t even have room for us, for our kind of praying and our normal profession of our faith,” he said.
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