One of the radical Islamist groups controlling northern Mali, Ansar Dine, on Friday sent delegations to Algeria and Burkina Faso to hold peace talks, a source close to the extremists said.
“Currently we have a delegation on its way to Ouagadougou and a second on its way to Algiers,” an aide to Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“We are in favor of peace, and dialogue is necessary for peace. That is why we have sent these delegations,” he said, without giving further details on who the Islamists would be meeting with.
Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore is the Economic Community of West African States-appointed mediator in the Malian crisis, and has pushed for a negotiated end to the occupation rather than the use of military force.
Regional heavyweight Algeria is seen as a key player in dealing with Islamic extremism in the Sahel.
The latest talks come as international experts meet in Bamako to firm up plans for an armed intervention to wrest northern Mali from the hands of the Islamist groups which are to be presented to the U.N. in late November.
Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith in Arabic) has controlled Mali’s vast north along with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), backed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) since a disastrous coup in Bamako in March.
They have imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law, stoning to death and whipping transgressors and forcing women to cover up as well as destroying ancient cultural treasures deemed “idolatrous.”