By Jemal Oumar
Interim Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra is willing to negotiate with the Touareg rebels in control of the country’s north.
“Yes, we will negotiate because we hate war. We will negotiate because we are not afraid to negotiate,” AFP quoted Diarra as saying on Friday (April 20th). However, the prime minister said he would not hold talks with militants “placing a knife to the throat”.
“We can’t just leave the residents of our northern provinces to suffer from killings and barbaric aggressions by the different armed Islamic groups in the north, as no Malian citizen would accept such a situation,” Diarra said in his first national address since taking office.
The prime minister’s televised speech followed similar remarks made by Mali’s presidential envoy during an April 15th trip to Nouakchott, where he met representatives from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The MNLA proclaimed the independent state of Azawad April 6th in Mali’s three northern provinces.
“The interim president is ready to start dialogue with Touareg rebels and Islamists occupying the north of the country,” Malian presidential envoy Tibile Drame said.
“However, the foreign armed jihadist groups among them must leave. Dialogue is the first point in our programme, and we count on Mauritania and on all other neighbours to solve the major problems in northern Mali,” Drame added.
Meanwhile, the Malian Parliament on April 19th adopted a resolution condemning the declaration of Azawad independence. The MPs called on the Malian army to quickly re-deploy to northern areas controlled by the MNLA, Ansar al-Din and other armed groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“This is to ensure Mali’s territorial integrity under the sovereignty of the independent Republic of Mali,” the resolution stated. According to Le Républicain, MPs also condemned the arrests last week of political figures close to former President Amadou Toumani Touré, describing them as arbitrary and illegal arrests that did not encourage dialogue, peace or stability.
In their response to the calls for dialogue, Ham Ag Mahmoud, a member of MNLA political bureau, told Magharebia Sunday (April 22nd) that the group was “ready in principle to engage in dialogue and to sit on the negotiating table”.
“We’ve already sent a mission to Bamako to meet with Malian officials in this framework in response to the call of Mali’s interim president. Our declaration of independence doesn’t mean that we will close all doors,” the MNLA official added.
As to Malian insistence on territorial integrity, Ag Mahmoud said that there were “several ways to maintain Mali’s territorial integrity”, adding the rebels would discuss them when delving into details of dialogue.
Islamist rebels Ansar al-Din expressed their willingness to fight any effort to oust them from northern Mali. When asked about possible military intervention, group spokesperson Sanad Ould Bouamama said that the “issue has become repugnant and discordant”.
“We fear only God,” he said. “I don’t think that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is considering intervention. Anyhow, we’re ready to take our arms and not to sit in air-conditioned rooms.”
Ould Bouamama also confirmed the group’s ties to al-Qaeda to Mauritania’s alakhbar.info April 22nd. “AQIM is an Islamic jihadist group active in the region where we’re active. Our relation with them is never a contradictory relation, given that our marji’ya is the same. They are just an independent organisation,” he said on April 22nd.