Mali president seeks dialogue with militants

Tuesday February 11 2020

President of Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

President of Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keita speaks at the United Nations headquarters on September 25, 2019 in New York. On February 10, 2020, he said authorities are prepared to talk with militant groups in the hope of ending an insurgency. PHOTO | JOHANNES EISELE | AFP 

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Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Monday said the authorities were now prepared to talk with militant groups in the hope of ending an insurgency that has made swathes of the country ungovernable and stoked ethnic violence.

The army has suffered increasing losses in recent months at the hands of militants, who have also stepped up attacks on soldiers and civilians in neighbouring countries in the Sahel region, particularly Burkina Faso.

Escalating bloodshed in Mali’s central and northern regions has prompted a rethink in Bamako, Keita told French media.

“Why not try to contact those who we know are pulling the strings,” he said in a recording of the interview published by Radio France Internationale.

“The number of dead in the Sahel is becoming exponential. It’s time for certain avenues to be explored.”


Keita did not say what was being done to talk to Islamist groups.

But he said former president Dioncounda Traore, his high representative to central Mali, “has the task of listening to everyone”.

French forces intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali the previous year, but the militants have regrouped, capitalising on intercommunal conflicts to recruit and to extend their reach into central Mali.

The International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention body, said last year that seeking dialogue with militants may encounter some opposition within Mali and abroad from those who fear it could legitimise the groups and their ideas.

The government has already said it will recruit 10,000 more soldiers to counter the insurgency threat, and France is sending 600 soldiers to add to the 4,500 it already has tackling armed groups in the Sahel or with a 14,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in the region.

But the United Nations’ top humanitarian official in Mali, Ute Kollies, said last week that extra troops would not solve the crisis and urged political engagement.

Last year, at least 456 civilians were killed and hundreds more wounded in central Mali alone in what was the deadliest year for Malians since the start of the unrest, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Monday.