President Traore welcomes dialogue

INTERIM President Dioncounda Traore has ruled out negotiations with any of the Islamist groups that are being chased from the North of the country with the help of French forces.

In an interview with Radio France Internationale (RFI) Traore said he “initially thought we could negotiate with groups that were essentially composed of Malians.”

“But almost all these groups have disqualified themselves, except maybe the MNLA,” he said, referring to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a secular Tuareg nationalist movement that initially joined forces with the fundamentalists and later fell out with them.

The “disqualified”groups included Ansar Dine, a Malian Islamist group led by a former Tuareg independence fighter, Iyad ag Ghali, who allied himself with two al-Qaeda-linked groups.

The three groups that took control of Northern Mali last year are now on the run from French and Malian forces.

President Traore gave a condition for the open dialogue with the autonomy-seeking Tuareg MNLA. He said they must dropped any claim for independence.

“Today, the only group that we could think of negotiating with is certainly the MNLA. But, of course, on condition that the MNLA drops any pretence to a territorial claim,” Traore told French Radio International (RFI).

“For Ansar Dine, I think the only solution for them is to formally announce that they are rejecting the application of the Sharia Law,’’ Traore said.

Asked about the whereabout of Ansar Dine’s leader, Traore said he heard the rebel leader had retreated into the Tirarar mountains, near the Algerian border.

A rebellion started in the North last year by the Tuaregs was hijacked by Islamist radicals, who seized two-thirds of the Sahel nation, following a military coup in the capital, Bamako.

A three-week ground and air offensive by French and Malian forces has broken the 10-month grip of the Islamist alliance — grouping Ansar Dine, MUJWA and al Qaeda’s in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — over the cities in the North of Mali.

The MNLA said this week that they had taken control of Kidal, the last of the Islamist strongholds after the militants abandoned the town.

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