Malian government officials have held direct talks with representatives of the separatist Tuareg Mouvement National de Libération de L’Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamist group, Ansar Dine. The preliminary talks have resulted in a “commitment to national unity, territorial integrity, and a republican form of secularism as a prerequisite for the opening of the dialogue.”
The nomadic Tuareg began an insurgency over land and cultural rights in the north of Mali in the early 1990s. Despite repeated government attempts to bring the insurgency under control, the movement gathered pace in 2007 and was bolstered by an influx of arms from the 2011 Libyan civil war. Commandeered by the Saharan branch of al Qaeda, the MNLA seized control of the Tuareg north after Mali suffered a military coup in March 2012, and the region was effectively seceded from the rest of Mali.
The Economic Community of West African States has said that it is ready to deploy troops to the troubled region upon authorisation from the United Nations.
“The three delegations agreed on the need to create a framework for inter-Malian dialogue, which will be inclusive, and would involve representatives of the different communities living in northern Mali,” Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole reported.
Ansar Dine pledged to reject all forms of extremism, but remains to substantiate this by cutting its links to al Qaeda.
Two other rebel groups operating in Mali’s north, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Oneneess and Jihad in West Africa, did not attend the talks.