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Mali Islamists to meet crisis mediator

06 November 2012, 14:13

Ouagadougou - Representatives of Ansar Dine, one of the armed Islamist groups in northern Mali, are to meet lead mediator Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore on Tuesday, as plans for military action take shape.

Mediators are trying to get Ansar Dine to break ties with its jihadist allies - al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), long seen as an Aqim splinter group.

The groups took over a large swathe of northern Mali in the wake of a March coup attempt in the country's capital Bamako.

The 16-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has demanded that Ansar Dine end "terror and organised crime" in the region, abandon its allies and engage in a dialogue to re-establish a unified Mali.

Burkinabe mediators on Monday pursued their talks with Ansar Dine for two hours, ahead of the meeting between the group's delegates and Compaore, the lead mediator in Mali's ongoing crisis, at 16:00 pm (16:00 GMT).

'Good progress'

"We made good progress," Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassole said after the latest round of talks in Burkina Faso's capital.

The Islamists will now have to open a dialogue with the Malian government and continue consultations with the secular Tuareg group called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and communities in northern Mali to create an "inclusive process", Bassole added.

So far the Ansar Dine delegates insist their group - made up mainly of Malian Tuareg like its chief, Iyad Ag Ghaly - is independent from the two other groups, has not committed "any act of terrorism" and favours a negotiated settlement to the crisis.

Experts finalising details for a military intervention said on Monday that non-African troops could play a role in ousting the Islamic radicals from northern Mali, if African leaders agree to such a plan.

"If African heads of state agree, there will be non-African troops on the ground to help Mali win back its territory," an African official taking part in a meeting of international experts in Bamako told AFP on the last day of the conference.

The official who spoke on condition of anonymity did not elaborate on where the troops would come from.

Algeria hesitant to get involved

He said that the number of troops sent into Mali by Ecowas "could reach 4 000 instead of the planned 3 000" and would be spread throughout the country.

He said delegates from Algeria had agreed not to give up the struggle against the armed Islamists, who are backed by Aqim.

Algeria, with its superior military, counter-terrorism and intelligence capabilities, is seen as key to any military operation but has been hesitant to get involved.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the north African heavyweight last week to lobby for support in ousting the extremists, who Western powers fear may turn the vast desert zone into a haven for terrorists.

They have already implemented a strict version of Islamic law, stoning and whipping transgressors, and have destroyed "idolatrous" ancient cultural treasures.

The Bamako conference was attended by experts from Ecowas, the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations and Algeria, who are helping Mali draw up a plan to be presented to the UN on November 26.

Another delegate told AFP that the UN was expected to finance the bulk of the military operation.

West African leaders will meet in Abuja, Nigeria, on an as yet undecided date to approve the plan.



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