This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Ashiru - Ecowas May Negotiate With Malian Rebels

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, has welcomed the recent decision by a splinter rebel group, Islamic Movement for Azawad, to negotiate with the government of Mali stating that dialogue was part of the process agreed by ECOWAS leaders.

As the military campaign supported by France pushed the Malian fundamentalists further north, a splinter group said it was ready for talks calling itself "moderate."

The former group, Ansadine, had ignored such talks and opted to carry its extremist battle to Bamako, the country's capital.

Nonetheless, Ashiru said he had been holding meetings with a number of foreign ministers on the sidelines of the ongoing African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to rally support for the African-led International Support Mission to Mali.

"When you look at the framework agreement on Mali, it provides for dialogue but the precondition is that any group that is ready to dialogue with ECOWAS or the AU must recognize the government in Bamako and the indivisibility of Mali," the minister said, stressing that such a group must accept the territorial integrity of Mali as constituted today.

According to him, any group that is willing to break ranks with the Jihadists and commence dialogue would be welcomed by the continental bodies.

"In fact, we want the democratic process that would commence after the military campaign to be all inclusive. All stakeholders will be given the chance to participate in that process," he said, adding that it would be an open process for all interested parties except those already in the interim government in Bamako.

"The non-participation of those in the interim government is part of the framework agreement with which we are working with now. Those who are now in the transitional government, we believe they should act as unbiased umpire to see through the transition process," he said.

On the countries he has been speaking with regarding the ongoing military campaign, Ashiru said he had held a meeting with the foreign ministers of Denmark, Norway, Finland and the deputy foreign minister of the UK.

He said that he explained to them what was at stake and that the crises is such that the international community must work together to resolve.

"Terrorists are not just a threat to the sub-region but to the international community because if you look at the map, you will see how close that area is to the Mediterranean and I made that point that they could easily infiltrate into Europe," Ashiru said.

He said he tried to impress it on them that the military campaign in Mali should not be left alone to ECOWAS and AU and they all agreed to offer one form of assistance or the other.

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