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Top Mali mediator to meet Islamists, Tuareg rebels

16 november 2012, 15:17
Chief regional mediator Blaise Compaore will meet Mali's Ansar Dine Islamists and Tuareg rebels together for the first time on Friday, amid calls for urgent dialogue to resolve the crisis in northern Mali, AFP reports.

Burkina Faso "President Compaore will receive at 11 am (1100 GMT) tomorrow Ansar Dine and MNLA together," his office said.

The three-way talks mark progress in negotiations for a political solution to the crisis, as plans to send an international military force to wrest control of northern Mali from Islamists gathered pace.

Mali rapidly imploded after a coup in March allowed ethnic Tuareg desert nomads, who had relaunched a decades-old rebellion for independence, to seize the main towns in the country's vast desert north with the help of Islamist allies.

The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by Islamist groups including Ansar Dine, which implemented their version of strict Islamic law, or sharia, and operated across the region with impunity, sparking growing international concern.

Earlier Thursday, the African Union's representative for Mali and the Sahel urged Bamako's transitional government to find a way to get negotiations between the country and the armed groups occupying its north going.

Pierre Buyoya, who is also a former Burundi president, said nailing this down was a matter of urgency, adding that mediators would not be able to continue "without at least two parties at the negotiation table".

French President Francois Hollande also spoke of the need for dialogue Thursday, when he asked Malian interim President Dioncounda Traore "for a ramping up of dialogue".

"This acceleration of dialogue needs to go hand in hand with the military plans underway," he said.

Over the weekend, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) approved plans to send a force of 3,300 troops, logistically backed by Western nations, to reconquer northern Mali -- all while saying they preferred a political solution.

The African Union has said that troops could also possibly come from countries outside the regional bloc, but Chad for one said Thursday it had no present plans to send troops.

Among the groups controlling the desert north, Ansar Dine said Wednesday it was ready to help rid the region of "terrorism" and "foreign groups" and that it no longer wanted to impose sharia law across all of Mali, only in the sparsely populated northeast Kidal region.

Buyoya welcomed the remarks, calling them "a step in the right direction" but also struck a cautionary note saying, "now we'll see at the negotiation table whether these statements are true".

Ansar Dine aside, there are also other Islamic extremist groups active in the area -- including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) -- but they have not yet been implicated in the planned negotiations.

On Tuesday, the African Union endorsed the military intervention plan and the United Nations was expected to pass a resolution approving the mission, though it remains unclear when the first troops could be deployed.

Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou said Thursday that "all the conditions were met" for the UN Security Council to approve the intervention, adding that he hoped they could intervene "as soon as possible".

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