Ansar Dine: We're key to Mali peace talks
06 December 2012, 15:39
Algiers - Negotiators for Ansar Dine, one of three armed Islamist groups that control northern Mali, said military action to oust the extremists was futile and that they were key to peace talks, in an interview published on Thursday.
"It is not through [military] intervention that the crisis in Mali will be resolved," the Malian Islamist group's Ahmada Ag Bibi and Mohamed Ag Aharib were quoted as saying by Algerian newspaper Liberty.
Mali on Wednesday appealed to the UN Security Council to urgently approve an international force to wrest control of northern Mali from Islamist militants and rebels, with France hoping a resolution will be passed this month.
Bamako and African and UN envoys have sought political talks with the Islamists and Tuareg rebels, but west African nations are pressing for the rapid approval of military action so the training of Malian forces can start in the New Year.
The negotiators for Ansar Dine, which is comprised mostly of Tuareg tribesman, said that excluding the group from talks was "not a good idea".
It "will complicate the task. Who occupies the land? There is Ansar Dine, Aqim and Mujao", they said, referring to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its splinter group the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.
The Islamists have imposed a brutal form of sharia Islamic law, stoning unmarried couples, amputating thieves' hands and whipping drinkers and smokers.
"Nothing can be done without Ansar Dine. It occupies the land. We are Malians, we are practicing Muslims and we want to live our Islam as we choose, in our area.
"If it is not Ansar Dine, who will negotiate? We must return to the table of negotiations and find a solution to save Mali," they said.
A war in Mali would shake the whole region and would have "catastrophic" humanitarian consequences, according to the group's representatives.
"The purpose of this war is unclear. How long will it last? Will it target certain groups?" they asked, saying that the problems which can be resolved in a year of talks would take 10 years to resolve through military intervention.
Ag Bibi and Ag Aharib insisted their group has "never committed a terrorist act," and that they had "freed people who were captured," referring to a Swiss and a Spanish hostage seized in Mali's north and released earlier this year.
Mali's northern neighbour, regional heavyweight Algeria, is lukewarm on the idea of an invasion on its doorstep to drive out the extremists, who occupied northern Mali in the wake of a military coup in Bamako in March.