Ouagadougou — Iyad Ag Ghali, Secretary-General of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Dine, one of the Islamist groups in control of northern Mali, met with Burkina Faso's foreign affairs minister, Djibril Bassole, in Kidal on 7 August and said he is open to engaging in mediation efforts to reunite the country.
"We are going to work together to find peace," Iyad Ag Ghali told reporters at Kidal Airport.
Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré has been appointed by the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) as its mediator in the Malian crisis. Since opening tentative contacts with Islamist groups in May, Compaoré has called on Ansar Dine and other groups to distance themselves from "terrorists groups" and join the peace process.
Bassolet also went to Gao, currently under the control of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), where he met with civil society groups but not MUJAO members.
MUJAO pushed out the National Movement for Independence and Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a grouping of Tuareg separatist rebels, in late June. Since then, some local youths in Gao have reportedly joined the MUJAO cause as paid mercenaries, but most residents are in stiff opposition to the rigid Sharia law the group has imposed. On 5 August, people in Gao protested in the streets at the planned amputation of the hand of an alleged thief.
Mohamed Ould Mataly, leader of the Arab community in Gao and head of the local civil society association, said they were working with MUJAO "to avoid clashes among communities and maintain control of some activities within the city".
ECOWAS has been weighing the option of military intervention alongside its diplomatic efforts to restore stability in Mali, but observers have cautioned that a military option could worsen the crisis.
The UN Security Council has declined to authorize the mission and instead asked the West African bloc, which is reported to be preparing a new request for intervention, to give more information about the military solution.
The International Crisis Group has criticized the ECOWAS negotiation tactics as "aggravating existing fault lines in Malian society."
Disgruntled troops overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré on 22 March on the grounds that his government failed to effectively tackle the Tuareg rebellion in the north, but heavily armed Islamist rebels and Tuareg fighters quickly seized the northern territory in the confusion following the coup.
The now weakened MNLA has indicated that it is open to negotiations with the interim government in Bamako, which took over from the military junta, and has toned down its separatist demands.
Mali, with other countries in the Sahel, has been hit by a severe drought that has forced over four million people into hunger and driven hundreds of thousands to seek help in neighbouring countries and elsewhere within the country.
ECOWAS recently extended a 31 July deadline for Mali's interim authority to form a more inclusive government after the return of interim President Diancounda Traoré from treatment in Paris for injuries sustained during an attack at the presidential palace in May.
This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations