Mediators to push Mali Islamists to cut Al-Qaeda ties

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OUAGADOUGOU   (AFP) – Senior mediators in the Mali crisis will try to convince one of the Islamist groups controlling the country’s north to cut ties with Al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch, an official said Saturday, as an Algerian newspaper said the group was considering such a move.

Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassole, who is helping his country’s mediation efforts to end neighbouring Mali’s seven-month crisis, said he would meet representatives from Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) this weekend.

On Friday, Ansar Dine sent delegations to Algeria and Burkina Faso for peace talks.

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, the main mediator in the crisis, to which the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is trying to broker an end, would also meet the Ansar Dine delegation, Bassole said.

Compaore would remind the Islamists of the ECOWAS demands, “which are that Ansar Dine must disengage from terror and organised crime” and “return to the political process,” Bassole said.

The Ansar Dine delegates may also meet Mali Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly, a Burkina Faso source said.

Compaore is pushing for a peaceful solution even as military action looms.

The UN Security Council on October 12 approved a resolution urging a joint African union military force to speed up preparations for a force of more than 3,000 troops that would attempt to help recapture the occupied Malian north.

Ansar Dine is one of the radical Islamist groups controlling northern Mali, having hijacked a separatist Tuareg rebellion following a coup in Mali earlier this year.

The group destroyed ancient shrines in Timbuktu and has applied harsh interpretations of Islamic law in the areas under its control.

Ansar Dine is led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, who also has sent a delegation to another of Mali’s neighbours, Algeria.

Ghaly “would be ready to officially distance himself from AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and play the ‘democracy’ game,” the Algerian newspaper El-Watan reported on Saturday, citing an Algerian official.

A statement from Ghaly could be expected in “the next few days,” the “credible” source added, saying that the Islamist leader would cut ties with AQIM and instead support international dialogue on the Mali issue.

The Ansar Dine delegation to Burkina Faso arrived on Friday, but Algiers on Saturday had still not officially confirmed the arrival of the second.

Algeria is seen as a key player in dealing with Islamic extremism, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the regional heavyweight on Monday to press for support in the Mali crisis.

“We are in favour of peace, and dialogue is necessary for peace. That is why we have sent these delegations,” a source close to the extremists said on Friday.

The envoys may also make a stop in Nigeria, another source within Ansar Dine told AFP.

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