Mali PM ready for talks with rebels

Interim leader says he is not afraid to negotiate but not under duress.

    Tensions eased in post-coup Mali as the regional grouping ECOWAS announced a summit on the crisis next week [EPA]

    Mali's new interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra has said he is ready for talks with armed groups who have seized control of the country's north, but not under duress, pointing out that winning back the territory is his "top priority".

    "All options are conceivable, first that of negotiation," he said in his first speech to the nation on Friday.

    "Yes, we will negotiate because we hate war. We will negotiate because we are not afraid to negotiate," he said on state television.

    But not with "a knife to the throat, accepting a fait accompli."

    The Tuareg have declared an independent state and the Islamists have imposed sharia law in cities including Timbuktu.

    Diarra said Mali had "suffered a deficit from government and a lack of capacity to anticipate" which had led to the current situation.

    ECOWAS summit

    Tensions eased in post-coup Mali on Friday after the release of 22 political prisoners and as the regional grouping ECOWAS announced a summit on the crisis next week.

    Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States will meet in Abidjan on Thursday when they will also address the crisis in Guinea-Bissau, whose government was also overthrown in a military coup, the Ivorian presidency of the bloc said on Friday.

    In Mali, Diarra set about forming his interim government after soldiers agreed to cede power to civilians in the Saharan nation.

    Ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, who formally resigned after being overthrown by the military on March 22, left the country to seek refuge in Senegal.

    It was not immediately known whether Toure, 63, would stay in Senegal indefinitely.

    A military source in Bamako had earlier said on condition of anonymity that Toure had departed "with the agreement of Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo," the coup leader, after soldiers posted at the airport earlier refused to let him leave.

    The military source said troops had tried to oppose the former president's departure by firing in the air, sparking mass panic.

    Toure's departure from Mali and the release of his allies who were rounded up by the junta helped ease tensions in Bamako where some feared that soldiers were loath to give up power as arrests continued despite the commitment to a return to civilian rule.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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