Senior mediators in the Mali crisis will try to convince one of the Islamist groups controlling the country’s north to cut ties with al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch, an official said on Saturday, as an Algerian newspaper said the group was considering such a move.
Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassole, who is helping his country’s mediation efforts to end neighboring Mali’s seven-month crisis, said he would meet representatives from Islamist group Ansar Dine (“Defenders of Faith”) over the weekend.
On Friday, Ansar Dine sent delegations to Algeria and Burkina Faso for peace talks.
Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, the main mediator in the crisis, to which the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is trying to broker an end, would also meet the Ansar Dine delegation, Bassole said.
Compaore would remind the Islamists of the ECOWAS demands, “which are that Ansar Dine must disengage from terror and organized crime” and “return to the political process,” Bassole said.
“Ansar Dine is independent from any other group,” the Islamist group’s head delegate, Algabass Ag Intalla, told reporters.
The group is “ready to negotiate for peace,” he added.
He said he was also prepared to meet the Malian minister currently in Ouagadougou, “if the mediator” wants it.
A Burkinabe government official said such a meeting would “probably” be held.
Ansar Dine delegates may also meet Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly, a Burkina Faso source said. Compaore is pushing for a peaceful solution even as military action looms.
The UN Security Council on Oct. 12 approved a resolution urging a joint African union military force to speed up preparations for a force of more than 3,000 troops that would attempt to help recapture the occupied Malian north.
Ansar Dine is one of the radical Islamist groups controlling northern Mali, having hijacked a separatist Tuareg rebellion following a coup in Mali earlier this year.
The group destroyed ancient shrines in Timbuktu and has applied harsh interpretations of Islamic law in the areas under its control.
Ansar Dine is led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, who also has sent a delegation to another of Mali’s neighbors, Algeria.
Ghaly “would be ready to officially distance himself from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and play the ‘democracy’ game,’” Algerian newspaper El-Watan reported on Saturday, citing an Algerian official.
A statement from Ghaly could be expected in “the next few days,” the source added, saying that the Islamist leader would cut ties with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and instead support international dialogue on the Mali issue.
The Ansar Dine delegation to Burkina Faso arrived on Friday, but Algiers on Saturday had still not officially confirmed the arrival of the second.
Algeria is seen as a key player in dealing with Islamic extremism and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the regional heavyweight on Monday last week to press for support in the Mali crisis.
“We are in favor of peace, and dialogue is necessary for peace. That is why we have sent these delegations,” a source close to the extremists said on Friday.
The envoys may also make a stop in Nigeria, another source within Ansar Dine told reporters.