Wednesday, July 16, 2014 12:58 pm
ALGIERS – The Bamako government is ready to make concessions within its “red lines” to clinch an accord with armed groups from northern Mali, Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said Wednesday, as peace talks began in Algiers.
“The government is ready to go as far as possible within the red lines that have been drawn,” the minister told AFP.
Those red lines include “respect for territorial unity, the unity of Mali and the republican form of the Malian state,” he added.
While separatist demands have officially been dropped by the rebel Tuareg groups attending the talks, they are demanding greater autonomy or a special status for northern Mali, known by the Tuareg as “Azawad”.
Groups attending the Algiers meeting include the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and two branches of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA).
Armed groups close to the Bamako government will also be represented at the talks, with the foreign minister heading the government delegation.
Mali has excluded several Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda which occupied northern Mali for close to 10 months before being ousted by the French-led Serval military offensive launched in January 2013.
“We are very open, but also determined to find an accord and an understanding between Malians. There is a desire to reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” the minister said.
The Algiers meeting brings together Mali’s various warring factions for the first time since an interim agreement in June 2013 paved the way for nationwide elections.
Since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita came to power last year peace talks have stalled, and northern Mali has seen a spike in violence by Islamist and separatist militants.
But on Tuesday, the two sides exchanged dozens of prisoners in a goodwill gesture ahead of the negotiations.