Mali: Al Qaeda-linked group ready for peace talks if foreign troops are expelled
In Mali, Al Qaeda-linked militants have said they are ready to attend peace talks with Mali’s government, but on condition that it expels foreign troops from the war-torn West African nation.
The terror group made its position known in a statement issued on Monday following a decision by Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last month to consider talks with extremist groups, breaking a long-held government refusal to do so.
“There can be no talking about negotiations under the shade of occupation, before the departure of all French forces and their followers from Mali,” al Qaeda-linked Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) said in a statement posted on social media.
JNIM, led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, also called on the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, to leave, saying it was echoing the demands of Malian protesters, some of whom have called on foreign troops to withdraw.
As part of the dialogue initiative, the Malian government hopes to engage with two influential leaders of the JNIM.
The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, an IS affiliate, is also active in Mali and other countries in the Sahel region such as Burkina Faso and Niger. But the government has no plans to negotiate with this group.
Mali has been struggling to contain a jihadist rebellion that erupted in the country in 2012. Since then, thousands of civilians and military personnel have died in the conflict.
France has about 4,500 troops stationed in the Sahel region, who are primarily focused on fighting the insurgency in Mali.
MINUSMA also has about 14,000 peacekeeping troops in Mali while the United Kingdom announced recently that 250 British troops will be deployed to Mali later this year to help fight extremism in the Sahel region.