By Jemal Oumar
Touareg rebels in northern Mali entered into talks with regional mediators for the first time last week, expressing a willingness to engage in dialogue with the international community.
A delegation from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) led by Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh met Burkinabe President and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediator Blaise Compaoré for the first time on Saturday (June 9th) in Ouagadougou.
But MNLA media office chief Bakai Ag Hamad Ahmed said in a telephone interview with Magharebia that “the world should understand that our willingness to enter into a dialogue in no way means going back on independence of the Azawad state, nor even accepting autonomous or federal rule. Rather, it is to avoid going to war with the international organization and to curb some countries of the region that want the quick military solution, such as Niger, for example.”
“We gave our perception of the negotiations in the letter our president sent with the delegation to the Burkinabe president, and among the most important points discussed was our willingness to respect the borders of the Malian state, because our desire is not expansionist and we do not want to go beyond the borders of our region,” the MNLA official said.
“We want to reassure the world that we will fight all armed groups in our region, helping to impose security and stability in the Sahel,” Ag Hamad Ahmed said.
However, the rebel official warned that “if the world decides to restore what it calls the unity of Malian territory, we will engage it in armed confrontation to defend our independence”.
Meanwhile, the Burkinabe president reportedly expressed satisfaction with the move, which complements the previous step of sending an envoy to the states of northern Mali to communicate with the breakaway Touareg groups.
“This move will pave the way, set the conditions and determine the mechanisms by which the dialogue will start, with the involvement of the most important actors in the region, particularly Algeria and Mauritania, with a view to reaching a lasting solution to the crisis,” Compaore said.
Journalist Makan Koné, president of the Malian Press House and director of newspaper Nouvelle Libération, told Magharebia that the “negotiations cannot be judged as stillborn as a result of Touareg refusal to renounce independence”.
“But we must be aware that it is impossible to continue the situation as it is now, because the world will not continue watching division of the Malian state in this way,” Koné said.
“Where is the Azawad state and where are the suitable conditions for its establishment?” he asked. “The MNLA is not moving on anything.”
University professor Abu Bakr al-Sedik Ag Hami told Magharebia that he believes that “the MNLA is raising the ceiling of its demands to get, in the end, federal governance, which is what ECOWAS is seeking.
“The Touareg in the end cannot refuse what ECOWAS will propose as long as they expressed their willingness to negotiate,” he said.
“If those negotiations fail, that means going to war, and consequently the Touareg will be able to occupy more Malian territory, and the latter will find itself on the defensive and will be forced to accept independence,” Ag Hami added.