News24

Mali rebels, govt set to meet

2012-12-04 09:17

Ouagadougou - Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, west Africa's chief mediator for the crisis in Mali, will hold his first joint meeting on Tuesday with delegations from the Malian government and two rebel groups, his office said.

"The president will receive all the delegations together tomorrow at 16:00," the presidency said on Monday, after Compaore met representatives from Mali's transitional government.

Delegations from Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), one of the Islamist groups that have seized Mali's north, and the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), a rebel movement fighting for an independent state for the Tuareg people, are also in the Burkinabe capital for the talks.

Mali, once considered one of west Africa's most stable democracies, was plunged into chaos by a 22 March coup that created a power vacuum and enabled rebels to seize control of the country's north.

The MNLA initially fought alongside the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups now controlling the vast desert territory - Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao).

But the Islamists quickly sidelined the more secular Tuareg fighters and have set about imposing strict Islamic law in the north, destroying World Heritage shrines they consider blasphemous, stoning an unmarried couple to death and amputating hands of suspected thieves.

The Islamist occupation of the Texas-sized desert region has raised fears it could become a base for attacks on Africa and Europe.

Preparatory meetings

Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly, head of the government delegation, said on Monday that authorities in Bamako were open to talks only if they kept the country intact and secular.

"We are acting under the Malian constitution. The republic is united and indivisible and secular, and in that respect separatist demands, attempts to install a religion and a law by force cannot thrive in Mali," Coulibaly told journalists.

He said chief mediator Compaore had "talked extensively with various sides as part of the preparatory meetings", adding: "I believe the moment has come to move on to another phase. That is why we are here."

"We will succeed," he added - but also cautioned that Tuesday's talks would only explore "the possibility of beginning a dialogue".

Compaore's efforts to reach a negotiated solution with Ansar Dine - a homegrown Malian group considered more moderate than its Islamist allies Aqim and Mujao - have met resistance in Mali.

On Saturday, an umbrella group of some 30 political parties and civil society groups published a "manifesto for the nation" rejecting any negotiations with Ansar Dine and the MNLA, and accusing Compaore of favouring the rebels and their "terrorist partners" in his role as mediator.