Mali president says will only talk to secular Tuareg
Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore on Thursday ruled out negotiations with any of the Islamist groups that ruled the north for nine months until France's military intervention.
He told France's RFI radio he was ready for talks with the secular Tuaregs of the MNLA, who want an independent homeland for their people.
But he would not meet any of the three Al Qaeda-linked groups that seized northern Mali last year, including the homegrown group Ansar Dine, (Defenders of the Faith).
"It is obvious that Ansar Dine is now disqualified, not eligible for dialogue whatever clothes they come garbed in," Traore said.
Earlier this week, a group calling itself the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA) announced that it had broken away from Ansar Dine.
It distanced itself from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the dominant group in the region, and said it was ready for talks with Bamako.
"This MIA story doesn't hold water," Traore told RFI.
"Because fear has now changed sides, they are looking for a way out," he added.
"The only group we would consider holding negotiations with definitely is the MNLA, provided the MNLA waives all territorial claims," he said.
It was the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), flush with weapons scattered across the region following Moamer Kadhafi's downfall in Libya, that launched a broad military offensive in January 2012.
They quickly worked their way south, virtually unopposed following a March coup in Bamako.
But they were subsequently overpowered by AQIM, one of its offshoots and Ansar Dine, which was formed weeks earlier by a historical Tuareg leader.
Azawad is the Tamasheq name the Tuaregs give to a region comprising northern Mali and straddling several neighbouring countries and for whose independence they have been fighting for decades.
France's superior firepower has forced the rebels to retreat and allowed Mali's embattled army to move back into the main northern cities.
Paris however has stressed that a lasting solution can only come through talks between the authorities in Bamako and the legitimate representatives of the northern peoples.
Malian lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously approved a roadmap that foresees negotiations with some armed groups as part of a national reconciliation process.
Neighbouring Burkina Faso had been making slow progress in efforts to bring Ansar Dine to the negotiating table and find a peaceful solution to the country's de facto break-up.
Traore told RFI that Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore was wrong to think Ansar Dine was worth the effort.
But he would continue to trust his counterpart "maybe not to lead but to facilitate and support the negotiations," he added.
The rebels have offered little or no resistance to advancing French troops, relinquishing control of Timbuktu and Gao to regroup in remote hilly regions beyond Kidal, the northernmost of the three main hubs they controlled.
"They pulled out of the bigger cities in order not to be trapped and they must have taken up positions not far from these urban centres," Traore said.
"In no more than a month, we will have established a presence everywhere. We will push beyond Kidal and hunt down our enemies everywhere they go," he said.
© 2013 AFP