BAMAKO: Mali’s government has asked the country’s Islamic High Council to begin a dialogue with Al-Qaeda-linked groups in a new effort to address a nearly decade-long insecurity crisis.
It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian militant leaders Iyad Ag Ghaly and Amadou Kouffa of the Al-Qaeda-linked group known as JNIM, the council said.
Mohamed Kibiri, spokesman for the council, said on Tuesday that he was asked by the government last week to launch discussions. He said they are working with their representatives in the country’s north.
“The only directive we have received is to negotiate only with the Malians,” he said. “The other jihadists we consider invaders.”
Mali’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Worship Mamadou Kone confirmed that the government asked the council to lead discussions with the two groups.
This is not the first time the Malian government has asked the council to open dialogue with jihadist groups. Earlier this year, the council reached a ceasefire agreement between an Al-Qaeda-linked group and local fighters in a village in the Niono circle in central Mali. The jihadists granted freedom of movement to the villagers, and peaceful cohabitation with the army and local armed groups, in exchange for compulsory veiling of women, collection of taxes and traditional justice.
Mali has been fighting growing insecurity since 2012, when Al-Qaeda-linked groups took over parts of the north. Despite a French-led military operation that forced many rebels from their northern strongholds in 2013, insurgents quickly regrouped and have been advancing year after year toward the south of the country, where the Malian capital is located.
Meanwhile, the French army said Tuesday its troops shot dead a woman while conducting an anti-terror reconnaissance operation with Malian soldiers in the west African country, prompting an investigation.
The woman died on Monday during a joint patrol “in an area where elements of an armed terrorist group has been detected east of Gossi” in the north, the French general staff said.
The soldiers saw two individuals riding a motorbike, but they left it behind to flee into the undergrowth when they spotted the French and Malian troops, said the statement.
“An abandoned assault rifle, ammunition and a military bag are discovered near the motorbike,” it added.
The soldiers “engage in the pursuit of one of the two individuals in the woods. Four warning shots are fired to stop him but the latter moves further away.”
“The individual turns sharply toward the soldiers who fire to neutralize” the target and then “discover that it is a woman,” suspected of being one of the people on the motorcycle.
“Residents of the nearest village are called to give the identity of this person” but “no one knows her,” said the general staff, adding that the body was buried at the site.
An investigation has been opened “to clarify the exact sequence of events and to shed full light on this combat action,” the statement concluded.
Deployed to Mali since 2013 because of deadly jihadist activity, a force of some 5,000 French troops is now being drawn down, potentially by as much as half by early next year.