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Mali - Jihad - France

Mali open to dialogue with jihadists

Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Addis Abeba.
Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Addis Abeba. (RFI-France 24)
3 min

Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has said that his government is open to talks with jihadists as part of an inclusive national dialogue.

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President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) told RFI he instructed his high representative in central Mali, former President Diacounda Traoré, to listen to everybody, including those who are effectively in control.

“It is my duty to explore all possible avenues to reach some kind of peace as the death rate in the Sahel is increasing continuously,” said Keita.

Having repeatedly rejected contact with islamist insurgents, President Keita has now agreed that Traoré should meet jihadist leaders, Amadou Koufa and Iyad Ag Ghali.

The two jihadists were prominent leaders of the Malian extremist group Ansar Dine before a French-led military intervention in 2013. They now operate under the banner of an al-Qaida-linked group known as JNIM.

Traoré is also to identify who within the jihadist entourage might be inclined to reason. IBK said his government is doing what his people expressed in a sort of Afghan-like Loya Jirga assembly.

“I am not that naïve. We don’t think that suddenly all doors will open,” IBK added. “But neither are we closed off to dialogue.”

Rancour against France

In the past six years, there has been no official government representative in the northern town of Kidal. Troops including regular army soldiers and re-integrated combatants from armed groups are now moving to the region.

Renowned musician Salif Keita and politicians have regularly supported anti-France demonstrations in Mali. To the extent that it was said the French government wondered whether the protests were not used to deflect attention from the shortcomings of the Malian government.

“I think that Emmanuel Macron knows me sufficiently well and will not entertain the idea that I am capable of such duplicity,” said IBK. “Where would we be without Serval today?” referring to the French military units which were operational in the Sahel until replaced in 2014 by the multi-national Barkhane force.

IBK added that the withdrawal of foreign forces from Mali would be damaging for Mali.

The Malian President thinks that the United States might reconsider pulling out from the country. The Americans are not deployed on the ground but provide invaluable intelligence and support to the French army stationed there with its drones, logistics and aerial refuelling for allied troops.

“I was told that a special envoy for the Sahel will soon be nominated,” said President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. “That is a positive sign.”

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