Mali's president acknowledges contact with armed groups

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita says 'time that certain paths be explored' as security crisis in the Sahel deteriorates.

    Marking a shift in his previous approach, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita acknowledged that he has opened up for dialogue with armed groups [Frank Franklin II/AP]
    Marking a shift in his previous approach, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita acknowledged that he has opened up for dialogue with armed groups [Frank Franklin II/AP]

    Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has for the first time acknowledged contacts with armed groups, an option the government has long rejected.

    "The number of deaths in the Sahel is becoming exponential and it's time that certain paths be explored," he said in an interview with French media due to be broadcast on Monday.

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    Mali has struggled to contain an armed group revolt that broke out in the country in 2012, claiming thousands of military and civilian lives since.

    But dialogue with leaders of armed fighters has long been considered to be off limits for the government in Bamako.

    In the interview, Keita appeared to have changed course on past refusals to engage with these groups.

    "We are ready to build bridges for dialogue with everyone ... at some point, we have to sit around a table and talk," he said.

    Keita said he had sent former President Dioncounda Traore "on a mission".

    "He is my high representative, so his job is to listen to everybody," the president said.

    Traore was primarily tasked with seeing if there were people who "could be sensitive to a discourse of reason".

    However, Keita also said he was "not naive" about the likelihood of success.

    "Those who order others to enter a mosque and blow themselves up in the middle of the faithful don't have much of my esteem," he said.

    A 2017 national conference gathering Keita's party and opposition parties urged holding direct talks with armed fighters as a way to solve the crisis in Mali.

    The government never followed up the recommendations, however.

    SOURCE: News agencies