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Mali armed groups, govt postpone talks

09 January 2013, 16:19

Ouagadougou - Talks planned for Thursday between the Malian government and two armed groups from the country's north, Ansar Dine and the MNLA, have been postponed, said officials in Burkina Faso, where they were due to take place.

Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassole, who heads the negotiations for Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, the west African mediator on the Malian crisis, said on Tuesday that "all the parties asked that they be given more time to prepare".

The talks are "postponed until a later date", he added.

Compaore had invited delegates from Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) and ethnic-Tuareg separatist movement the MNLA (Azawad National Liberation Movement) to Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou for a new round of direct new talks.

The first talks took place on 4 December.

The delay comes as the armed Islamists occupying Mali's north move toward the south, which remains under government control.

The Malian army used heavy weapons near the central town of Mopti on Monday and Tuesday to fight back against the groups, according to a Malian security source.

Mali, once considered one of the region's most stable democracies, was plunged into crisis by a 22 March coup that overthrew the elected government and created a power vacuum that enabled Ansar Dine and two al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups to seize control of the vast desert north.

Ansar Dine and the MNLA are both homegrown movements seen as more moderate than their sometime allies in the vast desert north, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

But Ansar Dine recently released a political programme saying it wants autonomy for the north and "the strict observance of Islamic law", dashing hopes that it was taking a more moderate line in the face of plans for a 3 300-troop African military intervention to reclaim Mali's north.

The UN Security Council on 20 December approved the deployment of an international force for the north, but in stages and without a precise timetable.



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