Islamists ‘disqualified’ from talks, Mali’s president says
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In an interview with RFI-FRANCE 24, Mali’s President Traoré said he would not hold talks with the Islamist groups who took control of the country's north last year, saying Ansar Dine is “not eligible for dialogue, whatever clothes they are wearing."
Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traoré ruled out talks with the al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups who seized control of the country's north for nine months, saying they were "not eligible for dialogue" in an interview with Stéphanie Braquehais, the RFI-France 24 correspondent in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Traoré said he would be willing to meet with the region's Tuareg rebels, however.
Ansar Dine ‘disqualified’
"It is obvious that Ansar Dine is now disqualified…whatever clothes they are wearing," Traoré said. “The only group with which we can imagine potentially successful negotiations is the MNLA [Liberation Army of Azawad, a Tuareg rebel group] –on the condition that they give up all territorial demands and agree to definitively re-integrate into Mali. We seek solutions in democracy, de-centralisation, and development.”
His comments come after France called for peace talks between Mali's government and "legitimate representatives" from the north on Wednesday.
For nearly ten months, northern Mali was controlled by a motley mix of rebels groups – including al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups such as Ansar Dine [Defenders of the Faith].
The fall of northern Mali into rebel hands was sparked by the MNLA’s declaration of independence from the rest of Mali last year. But the Tuareg rebel group then lost control of vast tracts of the region to militant Islamist fighters.
During a lightening offensive, which began January 11, French troops, backed by Malian soldiers and a multinational West African force, met little or no resistance as they advanced over a vast desert territory the size of France.
The French troops entered Mali's remote northern city of Kidal the last stronghold of Islamist rebels late Tuesday after an intervention that saw the French-Malian contingent regain control of the cities of Gao and Timbuktu in less than 48 hours.
Along with Gao and Timbuktu, Kidal was under the control of Islamists militants. While they held regional power, the rebels enforced a harsh interpretation of Sharia law and destroyed ancient mausoleums they considered heretical.
Malian army ensuring ‘no ethnic warfare’
Meanwhile, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Wednesday repeated Washington’s call for Malians “to refrain from retaliating against Tuaregs or other ethnic minorities.”
Reporting from Timbuktu a day after the historic city was liberated, FRANCE 24’s Matthieu Mabin said hundreds of people attacked and looted shops belonging to the Tuareg and other lighter skinned ethnic groups – commonly called “Arabs” – in Mali.
Earlier this week, FRANCE 24’s Mehdi Chebil documented a case of Malian soldiers targeting an elderly man mistakenly assumed to have Islamist links in the central Malian city of Diabaly.
In his interview with RFI-France24, Traoré insisted that the Malian army was ensuring that such “ethnic warfare” would not occur, adding that “in Mali, this type of problem does not really exist”.
“The [Malian] army has been there to tell the people not to pillage and not to generalise [when it comes to other ethnic groups],” Traoré said. “They are there for a clear cause: to reclaim our territory and to make sure our country finds peace and a normal constitutional life again.”