Mali’s Ansar Dine rebel group has split – and the new faction wants to begin peace talks.
In a statement to Radio France Internationale, the splinter group announced that it was called the Islamic Movement for Azawad (MIA) and would be led by a former senior figure in Ansar Dine, Alghabass Ag Intallah.
The group said it wanted a “negotiated solution” to the conflict in Mali and, crucially, would even be willing to fight against their former comrades. That’s a first, according to RFI.
“There has to be a ceasefire so there can be talks,” Ag Intallah told Reuters from Kidal, the rebel-held town in northeast Mali where his new faction is based. He claimed to have already been in contact with mediators in Burkina Faso and Algeria.
Ag Intallah also distanced himself from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQMI, the North African wing of Al Qaeda, with which Ansar Dine formed an alliance for its offensive in northern Mali.
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The rebels’ objectives don’t necessarily align, the Associated Press said. Whereas AQMI and similar jihadist groups want to establish an Islamic state, other, secular fighters are primarily seeking greater autonomy for their native northern territories.
“They never believed in this [radical Islamist] ideology. Now they are running for the exits,” one Malian official told the AP.
Any divisions will be welcomed by Mali’s government and its allies, according to Reuters, which noted that negotiators have long sought to undermine the rebel alliance by offering talks to group that abandon AQMI.
Mali and France continue their military campaign against the insurgents, while several West African countries are assembling a joint ground force that is expected to arrive shortly.
Human rights groups have accused Malian troops of committing multiple abuses during their offensive, including summary executions of suspected rebels and sexual assaults on local women.
The French government has admitted that the reports may be true and warned that it will not accept right violations, Agence France Presse said.