Ansar Dine: ‘We are determined to have peace’
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With a plan for a military intervention in northern Mali already mapped out, a delegation from militant Islamist group Ansar Dine (currently occupying the region) met with a UN official in Burkina Faso.
For the first time since jihadists took control of northern Mali last spring, leaders from militant Islamist group Ansar Dine met with Said Djinnit, the UN’s representative for West Africa, in Burkina Faso. Ansar Dine, present in northern Mali alongside Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), strictly enforces Sharia law in the region, carrying out amputations, stonings, whippings and other forms of corporal punishment.
Since arriving in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, Ansar Dine has been trying to improve its image, declaring an end to terrorist tactics and stating its willingness to negotiate directly with Malian authorities in order to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. “We are calling Malians to the negotiating table,” Mohamed Ag Aharib, Ansar Dine’s spokesperson, told a FRANCE 24 reporter in Ouagadougou. “Both Malians and [militant Islamist] groups will have an opportunity to make their demands heard, but for the moment, the most important thing is to proceed toward dialogue.”
‘We are respectable people’
The delegation from Ansar Dine has indeed made several diplomatic overtures in Burkina Faso. “We are determined to have peace….so that people know we are not terrorists,” the spokesperson said. “We are respectable people, not monsters. Sharia law is what we want here, we have always applied it, and we ask that it no longer be demonised.”
But that is precisely the sticking point with Malian authorities, who, along with the rest of the international community, condemn Sharia law and the practices that go with it. On Wednesday, Ansar Dine seemed to strike a more conciliatory tone on the matter, acknowledging that Sharia law would perhaps not be enforced everywhere in Mali. “We will not pursue the application of Sharia on all of Malian territory, only in our region of Kidal,” Hamada Ag Bibi, one of the members of the delegation, told Agence France Presse.
“It shows Ansar Dine’s willingness to separate itself from other armed militant Islamist groups just as the possibility of a military intervention in the region is on the table,” assessed Virginie Herz, a specialist in international politics at FRANCE 24.
For the moment, Malian authorities are refusing to come to the negotiating table as long as Ansar Dine is talking about any kind of application of Sharia law anywhere in the country.
Following in the footsteps of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union on Tuesday approved a plan for military intervention in the region. According to the plan, 3,300 soldiers would be dispatched to reinforce the 5,000 Malian troops already in place.