Sanad Ould Bouamama, spokesman of the Islamist militia Ansar al-Din, said his group has already started negotiations to put an end to the conflict in northern Mali.
“We sent delegations to Algeria and Burkina Faso with our demands and these are now being negotiated,” he told Al Arabiya in a phone interview.
Bouamama stressed that the negotiations aim at reaching clear-cut solutions that would grant the Azawad, the residents of the self-declared, internationally unrecognized Azawad region in northern Mali, all their rights.
“We want to live as first-class citizens and we want our identity to be respected. We are Muslims and we will not live as France and U.S. see fit.”
Ansar al-Din calls for the application of a strict form of the sharia (Islamic law) in the Azawad region as well as across Mali.
The current negotiations, Bouamama explained, are an extension of previous ones that have been taking place throughout the past few months.
“Delegations from Algeria and Burkina Faso visited us in Kidal in northern Mali and we conveyed our point of view to them.”
Bouamama added that the group had also engaged in negotiations with the state, but these yielded no results.
“We negotiated with successive governments in Bamako but none of our demands were met.”
Bouamama warned of any foreign intervention in Mali and held France accountable for the failure of negotiations.
“France has been placing a lot of obstacles. For example, French President François Hollande wants to impose his own terms on the negotiations and to choose who to negotiate with.”
He also warned of any military strike against northern Mali and which, he argued, would also be orchestrated by the French.
“France wants to turn northern Mali into another Somalia and wants to exploit this region because it is rich in oil and uranium, but we are warning of the grave consequences of any attack. It will be a very risky adventure for the attackers.”
Bouamama also rejected the presence of African Union peace-keeping forces.
“Most of those forces come from Nigeria and we see how the Nigerian army kills people in cold blood these days.”
Regarding the links Ansar al-Din is reported to have with al-Qaeda, Bouamama said that his group’s acceptance of the principle of negotiations demonstrates their difference from al-Qaeda.
“It means we agreed to take part in the democratic process.”
The problem, he noted, is that the West in general and France in particular view Ansar al-Din as a jihadist group rather than a political faction.
“We are an Islamist local group and we want our rights as Malian citizens, but al-Qaeda fights in international territories and want to bring back the Islamic Caliphate We focus on domestic matters that we have been trying to solve since 1963.”