The Malian government and two rebel groups have agreed to respect the country’s “national unity”, after holding their first talks to try and end a criss that has seen the west African country effectively split in two.
Delegations from the government, the Islamist Ansar Dine and the Tuareg Azawad National Liberation Movement (known by its French acronym, MNLA) agreed “on the respect for Mali’s national unity and territorial integrity”, and “on the rejection of any form of extremism and terrorism” they said in a statement after the talks in Burkina Faso.
Tuesday’s talks in Ouagadougou were organised by Blaise Compaore, the president of Burkina Faso and west Africa’s top mediator for the crisis.
The rebel groups control much of the north of the country, which they have termed Azawad and earlier declared to be independent of the national government.
The talks came as the African Union and Chad issued renewed calls for the United Nations to authorise military intervention to retake northern Mali.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has said it is ready to deploy 3,300 troops once it has approval from the United Nations, which is expected to decide sometime next month.
Alassane Outtara, the president of the Ivory Coast, said on Tuesday that armed intervention in Mali was “indispensable” and “[should be done] in the shortest timeframe”.
“Political dialogue is certainly needed but a military intervention seems to me indispensable and [should be done] in the shortest timeframe,” Ouattara said in Paris following talks with French President Francois Hollande.
In Ouagadougou, Compaore separately met Ansar Dine and MNLA representatives on Tuesday, a day after sitting down with the Bamako envoys.
Moussa Ag Assarid, a spokesperson for the MNLA, told the AFP news agency that the meeting “went very well”.
“No commitments were made, other than to get together around the same negotiating table,” he said.
Tiebile Drame, a spokesperson for the Malian government, said on Tuesday that authorities require the MNLA “to solemnly and formally renounce their aims of independence and self-determination”.
Two other rebel groups are also active in Mali’s north: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
A coup in March plunged the once stable west African democracy into turmoil, allowing a long-running separatist movement in the north to take advantage and secure huge swathes of territory.