First Published: 2012-11-07

 

Mali Islamist rebels urge other fighters to join dialogue

 

Ansar Dine calls for halt to hostilities as military chiefs plot strategies to expel extremists by force from northern Mali.

 

Middle East Online

Change of rhetoric

OUAGADOUGOU - Ansar Dine, an Islamist group occupying northern Mali, called Tuesday for other fighters to join them in political dialogue, as military chiefs plot strategies to expel the extremists by force.

As diplomatic efforts for a military solution to the Islamist occupation of Mali's vast arid north intensify, Ansar Dine has dispatched envoys to Burkina Faso and Algeria in a bid to negotiate an end to the crisis.

After meeting with the chief regional mediator, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, the Ansar Dine delegation urged "all the armed movements" to follow its lead with the aim of establishing "an inclusive political dialogue."

In a declaration read by envoy Mohamed Aharid, they called for "a total halt to hostilities, the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms, the return of all displaced people and refugees and the creation of an environment conducive to adopting and implementing a full peace agreement that addresses all the deep causes of the crisis.

"Ansar Dine rejects all forms of extremism and terrorism," the delegation added.

Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith, in Arabic) along with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have implemented an extreme form of sharia in the cities they control, stoning, whipping and amputating transgressors.

Ansar Dine has also destroyed centuries-old cultural treasures in the fabled city of Timbuktu which they denounced as "idolatrous" to their radical brand of Islam.

Mediators have approached talks with the hope Ansar Dine will cut ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), whose alliance with the Islamists has triggered fears in the region and among Western powers that the zone could become a new haven for terrorists.

Mali, once one of the region's most stable democracies, rapidly imploded after an ethnic Tuareg independence rebellion began in January and overwhelmed the state's poorly equipped army.

Angry over the government's handling of the crisis, soldiers staged a coup in March, which only made it easier for the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) to seize a string of desert towns.

The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by Islamists fighting on their flanks who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing strict sharia.

Burkina Faso's Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassole, a key mediator in the Malian crisis, urged Ansar Dine to turn words into actions and "refrain from unnecessary provocations."

He stressed that the Islamist group had made no reference to the issue of Islamic law.

A Tuareg rebel leader welcomed Ansar Dine's apparently softer stance.

The MNLA "congratulates Ansar Dine for its statement, in which it distances itself from terrorism and extremism," Ibrahim Ag Assaleh told AFP in Burkina Faso, where he is now based.

The Tuareg rebels are prepared to hold talks with Ansar Dine, leading eventually to peace negotiations with Mali's transitional government, he added.

Ansar Dine's top leader Iyad Ag Ghaly led a 1990 Tuareg rebellion in Mali.

In recent weeks Western powers have thrown their support behind a planned military intervention and last week experts met in the Malian capital to drawn up a strategy to oust the Islamists.

ECOWAS military bosses need to approve the details, before sending the plan onto regional heads of state and finally, the United Nations Security Council on November 26.

"It is about coming to a rapid agreement on an operational concept to help Mali quickly reconquer its north," said Ivory Coast's army chief General Soumaila Bakayoko.

The United Nations wants clarification on the makeup of a regional force, the level of participation from various west African states, and the financing and military means available.

Facing a violent ouster, Ansar Dine also declared its "availability to immediately engage in a process of political dialogue with the Malian transitional authorities."

The Islamist group also has a delegation in Algiers, where European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday suggested sending a European "support mission" to Bamako.

Last week US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the regional heavyweight to lobby for support in ousting the extremists from Mali.

Algeria, with its superior military capabilities and its 1,400-kilometre (900-mile) border with Mali, is seen as key to any military operation but has been hesitant to get involved, preferring a negotiated solution.

It is expected that up to 4,000 African troops could be sent to Mali, regional experts have said, without ruling out the possibility of non-African troops taking part in the military operation.

 

Bloodshed in Gaza surges amid no truce

Major western powers call for Libya ceasefire

UN warns buying oil from terrorists could lead to sanctions

Syria rebels advance towards Hama military airport

Emirates airline to avoid flying over Iraq

Italian fire-fighting planes to come to Libya rescue

US-Israeli ties sink to new depths over Gaza war

Air Algerie crash black boxes sent to France

Warning of Tripoli catastrophe after huge oil depot blaze

US, UN call for immediate Gaza ceasefire

Egypt army kills 14 jihadists in restive Sinai Peninsula

Calls for temporary Gaza ceasefire fall on deaf ears

Yemen army foils new Qaeda attempt to seize military posts

Investigators need ‘few days’ to probe cause of Algeria plane crash

Tunisia army suffers more losses in open war with terrorism

Jihadists advance amid escalation in Syria anti-regime offensive

Iraq Shiite militia takes bloody revenge against ‘Islamic State’ in Baquba

Fierce clashes kill at least 38 people in Benghazi

Israel resumes devastating military assault on Gaza

Thousands face famine as food security situation worsens in Somalia

Death toll in Gaza climbs as fragile ceasefire reveals destruction

Egypt summons Turkey charge d'affaires for second time in one week

‘Islamic State’ jihadists dynamite Shiite shrine in Mosul

US evacuates embassy staff in Libya over ‘real risk’

Investigators begin 'difficult' probe into Air Algerie plane disaster

Armed men snatch Head of Baghdad Provincial Council

‘Islamic State’ beheads Syrian soldiers in Raqa

Kerry in Paris for talks on long-term Gaza truce

Hezbollah chief speaks out on Gaza

Two rival Islamic states in Syria power struggle

Crete protest against Syria chemicals destruction in Mediterranean

74 killed in IS assault on Syria regime territory

Iran confirms arrest of Washington Post correspondent

Somali 'Shebab commanders' killed in AU offensive

Paris: survivors of Air Algerie jet crash 'unlikely'

Jordan shots down drone near Syria border

Gaza civilian toll spiralling to above 800

UN urges Europe to tackle Mediterranean migrant crisis

From Israel with ‘virus’: Death threat letter reaches Palestinian mission in France

Ordeal of ‘apostasy’ woman ends with departure from Sudan

Another bloody day as Israel targets civilians in UN-run school

‘Islamic State’ launches multiple attacks on Syria army

Attack on Egypt army post bears fingerprints of foreign intelligence

Harassment of Christians escalates in Islamist-run Sudan

Air Algerie plane goes missing over Mali