New Mali rebel faction calls for negotiations

Fighters who say they split from al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Dine seeks talks to end the French-led offensive in the north.

    A group of Malian fighters say they want talks to end the French-led offensive in the north, after splitting from the main rebel force.

    The breakaway faction of Ansar al-Dine said in a statement it "rejected all forms of extremism and terrorism and was committed to fighting them," adding it wanted a "peaceful solution" to the Mali crisis.

    It said the new group, the Islamic Movement for Azawad, was composed entirely of Malian nationals and called on Mali and France to cease hostilities in the zones it was occupying in the northeastern regions of Kidal and Menaka "to create a climate of peace which will pave the way for an inclusive political dialogue".

    Mali's crisis began when Tuaregs last year revived a decades-old rebellion for independence of the north, which they call Azawad. They allied with al-Qaeda linked fighters and seized key towns in days. The Tuaregs have since been sidelined by groups which imposed strict Islamic law in the region.

    An elected official from the northern city of Kidal told The Associated Press that the split was a long time coming and
    reflected how Ansar al-Dine enlisted large numbers of fighters and co-opted local authorities for economic and political reasons - not ideological ones.

    A French diplomatic official said France was taking the claims of a split seriously, but needed proof, not just words.

    France launched air and land campaign two weeks ago to support Mali's embattled interim government. African troops are also involved ion the offensive against the rebels.

    French warplanes destroyed two rebel bases on Thursday.

    The bombing raids targeted Ansongo, about 80km from the town of Gao and bases in the nearby village of the Seyna Sonrai, a Malian military source said on condition of anonymity.

    "French military planes successfully attacked Islamist positions at Ansongo and nearby areas," the source said. "The strikes were very successful and caused damage to the enemy."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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