Mali’s President Open to Talks With Jihadists to End Insurgency

(Bloomberg) --

Mali is considering talks with Islamist militants to end an eight-year insurgency that’s spread from the country’s remote north to its more populous central region and spilled over into neighboring states.

“Talking to Jihadists and fighting terrorism isn’t mutually exclusive,” President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita Keita told France24. “It’s time to explore certain paths.”

The army has suffered several deadly defeats after attacks by Islamic State militants who are also threatening civilians and have encroached beyond its borders, mainly Burkina Faso to the south. Armed groups killed more than 450 people in central Mali last year, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch.

“The number of deaths in the Sahel is growing,” Keita said in a broadcast by the Paris-based news television network. “It’s my duty to explore all possible ways and to do everything possible so that we, in one way or the other, can appease the situation.”

Keita said he had given former President Dioncounda Traore, his representative to central Mali, a mandate to “listen to everyone.”

Mali’s been battling Islamist insurgents since militants affiliated to al-Qaeda occupied urban centers in northern Mali in 2012. French troops intervened in January 2013 to oust the militants who have since regrouped. A 4,500-strong French counter-terrorism detachment, a 15,000-strong United Nations mission and a regional force known as the G5 Sahel have so far struggled to prevent the militants from gaining ground.

France earlier this month announced it would deploy an additional 600 troops to the Sahel. But Keita said military intervention isn’t enough to counter the insurgents.

International Crisis Group, a transnational non-profit, non-governmental organization, said in a report last year Mali should consider talks with certain insurgents to secure local ceasefires and thereby enable humanitarian aid for civilians caught up in the violence.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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