By Jemal Oumar
Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassolé arrived in Gao Tuesday (August 7th) to hold talks with Islamist militants on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The regional mediator was received by local dignitaries before touring a local hospital, according to AFP. The Burkina Faso envoy later moved on to Kidal, a city under the control of Ansar al-Din.
Gao-based journalist Osman Ag Mohamed Osman told Magharebia that Bassolé left for Kidal to meet with Iyad Ag Ghaly a few hours after landing, accompanied by Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) official Sharif Ould al-Taher and a member of Ansar al-Din who was receiving treatment in Burkina Faso.
“We are pleased. We support and accept the mediation of [Burkinabe] President [Blaise] Compaoré,” AFP quoted Ag Ghaly as telling reporters in Kidal.
But the secular-oriented National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) did not attach great hopes to Bassolé’s visit. Ham Ag Mahmoud, head of the MNLA office in Mauritania, as well as a minister in the unrecognised Azawad government, labelled the Ansar al-Din militants as “terrorists”.
“We do not hang any hopes at all on the visit of the Burkina Faso envoy, which for us is normalisation with the terrorist groups that undertake criminal acts incompatible with human dignity and rights, such as cutting off hands, killing, flogging, looting and drug trafficking. How can such people accept any negotiation and on what basis are they negotiating?” he wondered.
“We refuse to sit down with the terrorists at the negotiating table or to engage in dialogue with them,” Ag Mahmoud added.
Atay Ag Mohamed, a MNLA media representative in Timbuktu, told Magharebia that the Touareg group previously met with negotiators in Ouagadougou without success.
“But we came out of them satisfied, because we felt understood by ECOWAS in terms of our existence as an actor in the fight against terrorism in the Azawad region,” The MNLA official added.
He noted that “a delegation from the MNLA negotiators is preparing to enter a second round of negotiations to be held in Tunis on August 10th, under French-Swiss auspices”.
“Bassolé’s visit comes in anticipation of forming the next national unity government, thus ECOWAS seeks to pave the way for this move toward activating the negotiations file,” journalist Ibrahim Kolopale said.
Kolopale added, “Bassolé’s visit is the second visit to the Islamist groups by a senior official, after the that of the head of the Higher Islamic Council in Mali, Mahmoud Dicko, who visited the north a few days ago for dialogue with Islamist militants about the application of Islamic law. But I do not attach high expectations to it as a result of the intransigence of the Islamists and their rejection of any calls for a new dialogue.”
Meanwhile, northern Mali analyst and journalist Mohamed Ag Bibi believes that “ECOWAS want to give themselves one last chance before embarking on any military option”.
In related news, clashes erupted in Gao on Sunday (August 5th) between the MUJAO terrorists in control of the city and the local self-defence group known as Ganda Izo. The confrontations left several dead and wounded, according to the website Maliactu.
The same website added that the reason behind these armed confrontations was MUJAO assault against a journalist on charges of incitement against the application of Islamic law.