In Mali Peace conference calls for talks with jihadists

A national peace summit in Mali ended Sunday with a call for negotiations with jihadists in the country's north, according to a resolution seen by AFP.

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Malian army soldiers, pro-government militia members and former rebels, predominantly Tuaregs, take part in their first joint patrol in Gao in northern Mali on February 23, 2017 play

Malian army soldiers, pro-government militia members and former rebels, predominantly Tuaregs, take part in their first joint patrol in Gao in northern Mali on February 23, 2017

(AFP/File)
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A national peace summit in Mali ended Sunday with a call for negotiations with jihadists in the country's north, according to a resolution seen by AFP.

The conference, enshrined in the country's 2015 peace deal, was intended to bring together the government, armed groups that support it, former rebels and the political opposition.

But an opposition boycott lasted until late Saturday, while the former rebels were absent for Monday's talks before joining discussions on Tuesday, though all attended the closing ceremony.

A resolution agreed at the end of the conference called for "negotiations with radical preacher Amadou Koufa, and the Tuareg Islamist chief Iyad Ag Ghaly," a move likely to be met with dismay by the international community.

Ag Ghaly heads an Islamist alliance that has carried out attacks on Malian troops, and was previously head of Ansar Dine -- a jihadist group that hijacked a 2012 rebellion in the north to impose strict Islamic regulations in certain cities.

Koufa joined the alliance, known as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, after becoming well known as a radical preacher from Mali's Fulani community with strong links to Ag Ghaly.

Mali's jihadists did not sign the 2015 peace deal that aimed to quell separatist uprisings in the north.

They have continued to wreak havoc despite an ongoing French-led military intervention in 2013 to remove them.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said in closing remarks that a committee of experts would be charged with considering options for the north along with how to draft a charter of unity and national reconciliation.

Delegates failed to reach consensus on the question of "Azawad", as the former rebels refer to Mali's north, the root of the nation's current unrest.

The formal rebel alliance that led the 2012 uprising wants Azawad recognised as a politically distinct area of Mali.

This presents a key problem for the Bamako government, because the peace accord signed in Algiers rejects the idea of independence for one territory, said Oumar Sangare, a legal expert at Mali's national university.

"If 'Azawad' is considered as a political entity, that could open the door to demands for federalism," Sangare said.

Mahmadou Djeri Maiga, president of the political section of the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), the former rebel alliance, said the conference had made important steps nonetheless.

"For us it was important to make clear that will not be another uprising. And for there to not be another uprising we have to put our finger on the problems, we must not simply go through the motions," he said.

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