Mali’s Tuareg rebels, who have declared a separate state in northern Mali, met on Saturday for the first time with the West African mediator in the country’s crisis, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore.
The Associated Free Press notes that a journalist spotted three officials from the Mali National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA) who were unidentified, as they went into talks with President Compaore, who was appointed to the crisis by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as his foreign minister, Djibrill Basole.
According to Voice of America News, the international community is struggling to decide how to proceed with the chaotic status of Mali’s vast desert north, where fighters with groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Machreb, swept in with the MNLA, chasing out the Malian army and government. Now that more radical groups are dominating the regions, the MNLA has had a difficult time maintaining an independent Tuareg state.
MNLA’s Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh spoke with reporters after the meeting with President Compaore, saying that his group has set itself apart from other groups in the region, which have Islamic or terrorist orientation. While the Tuareg separatists had attempted an alliance with the Tuareg Islamist group called Ansar Dine, they saw that the agreement would not stand.
Saturday’s meeting with the MNLA and ECOWAS came after clashes near the region’s capital of Kidal, where MNLA fighters encountered Ansar Dine. MNLA, who considers itself “resolutely secular,” decided against the deal with Ansar Dine, because the group was insisting on implementing sharia, which is Islamic law, according to the AFP.