Representatives from Mali's Islamist rebels Ansar Dine headed to Bukina Faso and Algeria on Friday for crucial talks aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the crisis in the divided nation, a source close to the extremists said.
One of the radical Islamist groups controlling northern Mali, Ansar Dine, on Friday sent delegations to Algeria and Burkina Faso to hold peace talks, a source close to the extremists said.
"Currently we have a delegation on its way to Ouagadougou and a second on its way to Algiers," an aide to Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"We are in favour of peace, and dialogue is necessary for peace. That is why we have sent these delegations," he said. The envoys may also make a stop in Nigeria, another source within Ansar Dine told AFP.
The Burkinabe presidency confirmed to AFP that the delegation would meet President Blaise Compaore, who is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)-appointed mediator in the Malian crisis.
Compaore, who is in favour of a negotiated end to the occupation rather than the use of military force, has already been in contact with the Ansar Dine leadership in recent months.
Algeria is seen as a key player in dealing with Islamic extremism, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the regional heavyweight on Monday to press for support in the Mali crisis.
Algeria has been hesitant to get involved in any military intervention, however Washington feels that with its powerful army, counter-terrorism experience and intelligence services, it should play a central role.
Preparations for intervention
The latest talks come as international experts meet in Bamako to firm up plans for the armed intervention to drive the Islamists from northern Mali.
The UN Security Council on October 12 approved a resolution urging ECOWAS to speed up preparations for a force of over 3,000 troops that would attempt to help recapture the occupied territory.
It gave the regional bloc until November 26 to clarify its plans, while also urging all parties to begin a process of negotiation.
The week-long Bamako conference is looking at boosting the capabilities of the Malian army, which is under-equipped and demoralised after its rout at the hands of Tuareg fighters whose separatist rebellion in January triggered the country's rapid implosion.
Angry at the government's handling of the rebellion, a group of soldiers ousted the government in Bamako in March, which allowed the north to fall into the hands of the Tuareg rebels fighting alongside Islamic extremists.
The hardline Islamists, seeking to impose strict sharia law, quickly sidelined the secular Tuareg, eclipsing the desert nomads' plans for independence for an area they consider their homeland.
The country was effectively spliced in two, with the north under control of Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith in Arabic) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), backed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
They have imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law, stoning to death and whipping transgressors and forcing women to cover up as well as destroying ancient cultural treasures deemed "idolatrous".
The presence of the north African Al-Qaeda franchise, which has been involved in drug trafficking, attacks and kidnapping tourists for ransom in the Sahel for years, is one of the greatest concerns.
Western powers are fearful the vast arid zone could become a training ground for terrorists and pose a wider threat.
One strategy envisaged by the United Nations is getting armed groups such as Ansar Dine to "distance themselves from extremist and terrorist groups".
The United States, France and Germany have all pledged support for an intervention, offering training, logistics and equipment, but not troops.
Observers have warned that divisions in the region over how to act pose significant challenges to a military intervention.
Mali's other neighbour Mauritania has also called for dialogue to solve the crisis.
There is also a lack of cohesion in Bamako, where an interim regime has failed to assert itself and the former junta holds significant sway.
Date created : 2012-11-02