UN delegation meets with armed groups in Mali
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The U.N. Security Council met Monday with representatives of armed Tuareg groups active in northern Mali as part of an effort to accelerate peace talks with the government, though participants said disagreements on conditions for the talks had not been resolved.
Tuareg rebels launched a rebellion in northern Mali in early 2012 that gave way to a military coup, allowing them to take control of the country's north. However, al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists later took over much of the north, prompting France to launch a military intervention in early 2013.
Though Mali held successful presidential and legislative elections last year, security in the north remains precarious, and the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad in particular maintains a strong presence in and around the northern city of Kidal.
Despite the efforts of various mediators, negotiations between the armed groups in the north and the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita have stalled. Last month, Tuareg rebels withdrew from negotiations set to take place in Algeria after concluding that their push for greater autonomy would not be addressed. Authorities in Bamako are emphasizing a decentralization process that would bolster the Bamako-based government's presence throughout the country.
One of the chief goals of the Security Council visit, which ended Monday, was to accelerate peace talks with all groups in northern Mali.
Addressing reporters Monday evening, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said Keita had told the visiting delegation that he was working "tirelessly" to promote national reconciliation.
"He is working for the redeployment of the administration in northern Mali and for inclusive dialogue with the participation of Malian civil society for peace," Power said.
However, representatives of armed groups that also met with the Security Council stressed that outstanding issues such as disarmament remained unresolved.
"We are asking for a federation with Mali or for autonomy with the regions of the Azawad," said Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, vice president of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad. "And we want to negotiate on neutral ground, where we will feel safe to say what we want."
Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadan of the Arab Movement of the Azawad said the groups would not disarm until "a definitive agreement" had been reached with the government.
France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said Monday that while "pre-negotiations" could be held in neighboring countries like Algeria and Burkina Faso, a final agreement would be negotiated and signed in Bamako.
The visiting U.N. delegation said in a statement late Monday that the "absence of an inclusive political framework carries the risk of exploitation by 'troublemakers.'"
The delegation also met with local authorities and received briefings on the work of the country's U.N. peacekeeping mission. On Sunday, Araud said the mission would reach its full operational capacity in July, one year after it took over peacekeeping activities.