Both sides of Mali crisis in Burkina Faso talks

BRAHIMA OUEDRAOGO
November 3, 2012

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Opposing sides in Mali's crisis have arrived in Burkina Faso for talks with President Blaise Compaore, who is trying to mediate a solution to the conflict.

A top Malian government official and a delegation from an Islamist extremist group controlling northern Mali both arrived in Ouagadougou Saturday to meet with Compaore.

The meetings appear to be part of a new, regional attempt to set up negotiations to resolve the Mali crisis. The northern Mali Islamists also consulting with Algerian officials in Algiers.

Alghabass Ag Intalla, a top official of the radical group Ansare Dine, told The Associated Press Saturday that he is in Ouagadougou as the head of a delegation meeting with Compaore, who has been appointed by the Economic Community of West African States to mediate in the Mali crisis.

Mali's foreign affairs minister, Moctar Ouane, also arrived in Ouagadougou Saturday for talks with Compaore.

Compaore is working to establish negotiations to resolve the problems caused by the Islamists' separation of northern Mali from the rest of the country.

Compaore's talks with Ansar Dine and Malian government officials appear to be trying to avoid a military intervention in northern Mali. France heads an international effort planning a military campaign to end the Islamists' occupation of northern Mali. Ansar Dine is the most powerful of the groups that have seized control of northern Mali, including the fabled city of Timbuktu, and have imposed strict Shariah law over the sprawling desert territory.

Burkina Faso has been trying to negotiate with the Islamists in northern Mali for a few months. In August Foreign Affairs Minister Djibrill Bassole travelled to northern Mali cities of Gao and Kidal, which are controlled by the Islamists. In Kidal, the Burkinabe minister met with the leader of Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Gali. The Burkina Faso envoy urged Ansar Dine to distance itself from other hardliners, fundamentalists and terrorist groups operating in northern Mali.

Ansar Dine is also having consultations with Algeria, where Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has its base and which shares a long border with Mali, according to an Algerian diplomatic official. The official stressed that the meetings are not negotiations but said that Algeria can serve as a "facilitator" to help resolve the Mali crisis. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met last week with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a discussion about Mali. Algeria had been dragging its feet on the question of an intervention in Mali by African nations and Clinton said the Algerian leader appeared to caution against rash action.

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Associated Press writer Aomar Ouali contributed to this report from Algiers.