France, Mali disagree on whether to talk to jihadists to end insurgency

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By Africanews and AFP

France and Mali had a difference of opinion on Monday over whether to talk to jihadists to help end the Sahel state’s eight-year-old insurgency, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian ruling the option out.

During a news conference in the capital Bamako, Le Drian distinguished between engaging with armed groups which had signed peace accords, and “terror groups”.

“In the peace agreements there is a very essential element which is the reconstituted army,” he said.

“The prime minister has just referred to it and it is the urgency of the moment. And then there are the terrorist groups that have not signed the peace agreement, things are simple.”

Le Drian’s visit marks the first by a French politician since young army officers toppled president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on August 18.

After international pressure, Mali’s military junta handed over to an interim government which is meant to stage elections within 18 months.

Le Drian said his position was shared by the United Nations Security Council and the G5 Sahel countries.

But in a sign of a policy rift, Mali’s interim leader disagreed with the French official.

“The conclusions of the inclusive national dialogue that took place in our country, very clearly indicated the need for an offer of dialogue with armed groups,” said Moctar Ouane, Mali’s interim prime minister.

After international pressure, Mali’s military junta handed over to an interim government which is meant to stage elections within 18 months.

Mali has born witness to conflict since 2012 and thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed since then.

Intense fighting has continued despite the presence of French and UN troops, prompting many to argue that dialogue with jihadists is the best way to end the bloodshed.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told French daily Le Monde in September “there will be groups with which we can talk, and which will have an interest in engaging in dialogue to become political actors in the future”.

Swathes of Mali, a vast West African nation of some 19 million people, lie outside government control.

France has 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel region as part of its anti-jihadist Operation Barkhane.