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Mali peace conference calls for talks with militants

Government forces have attempted to quell the unrest [AFP]

Date of publication: 3 April, 2017

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Delegates at a peace conference in Mali suggested negotiations with militants in the north of the country on Sunday, in a move likely to be condemned by the international community.
Calls to negotiate with militants in northern Mali were made at the conclusion of a national peace summit on Sunday, according to a resolution seen by AFP.

The resolution, likely to be met with dismay by the international community, called for "negotiations with radical preacher Amadou Koufa, and the Tuareg Islamist chief Iyad Ag Ghaly."

The conference, which was enshrined in the country's 2015 peace deal, was intended to bring together the government, armed groups that support it, former rebels and the political opposition.

But an opposition boycott lasted until late Saturday, while the former rebels were absent for Monday's talks before joining discussions on Tuesday, though all attended the closing ceremony.

Ag Ghaly heads an Islamist alliance that has carried out attacks on Malian troops, and was previously head of Ansar Dine – a militant group that hijacked a 2012 rebellion in the north to impose strict Islamic regulations in certain cities.

Koufa joined the alliance, known as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, after becoming well known as a radical preacher from Mali's Fulani community with strong links to Ag Ghaly.

Mali's militants did not sign the 2015 peace deal that aimed to quell separatist uprisings in the north, and have continued to wreak havoc despite an ongoing French-led military intervention in 2013 to remove them.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said in closing remarks that a committee of experts would be charged with considering options for the north along with how to draft a charter of unity and national reconciliation.

However, delegates failed to reach consensus on the question of "Azawad", as the former rebels refer to Mali's north, the root of the nation's current unrest.

Meanwhile, the formal rebel alliance that led the 2012 uprising wants Azawad recognised as a politically distinct area of Mali.

This presents a key problem for the Bamako government, because the peace accord signed in Algiers rejects the idea of independence for one territory, said Oumar Sangare, a legal expert at Mali's national university.

"If 'Azawad' is considered as a political entity, that could open the door to demands for federalism," Sangare said.

Mahmadou Djeri Maiga, president of the political section of the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), the former rebel alliance, said the conference had made important steps nonetheless.

"For us it was important to make clear that there will not be another uprising. And for there to not be another uprising we have to put our finger on the problems, we must not simply go through the motions," he said.

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