Mali's government is looking to make peace with rebel groups. The Tuareg who are reportedly in control of much of the north have a good negotiating position at the talks being held in Algeria.
Mali's government wants peace. Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop left that in no doubt at the peace talks which began in Algeria on Wednesday (16.07.2014.)
He said the government was prepared to make concessions that did not go beyond its "red line." That line represents respect for the territorial unity of the country. "We are open and determined to find a solution for all Malians. We want an agreement as soon as possible," the minister declared.
Mali's government has its back to the wall. Three quarters of Malian territory is again under the control of rebels following a major offensive by Tuareg forces in the region around Kidal in the north that began in May. According to an Algerian diplomat," the armed groups are in a strong position." The rebels are fighting for wide-reaching autonomy for the north, many want an independent state, to be called "Azawad."
Islamists not present at the talks
At the talks in the Algerian capital Algiers, Minister Diop is sitting at the table with representatives of six rebel organizations. They include the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Arab Movement for Azawad (MAA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA). The Malian government excluded Islamist groups with ties to al-Qaeda, such as Anwar Dine.
Following a military coup in March 2012, Tuareg rebels and Islamists seized control of northern Mali. The Islamists then forced the Tuareg rebels back and advanced further southwards. It was not until the French intervened militarily in January 2013 that the advance could be halted. Talks were held in Ougadougou, capital of Burkina Faso.
It was agreed, among other things, that an inner Malian dialogue would be held following presidential elections. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected head of state in early September 2013 but little has happened since then to resolve the conflict. A ceasefire did not hold. The new Tuareg offensive of May 2014 prompted Prime Minister Moussa Mara to say that Mali was once again at war.
"The Tuareg groups have spread from Kidal into several smaller towns nearby and have installed their own administration," French Mali expert Michel Gally told DW. An attempt by the Malian state to launch a counter-attack and retake Kidal failed. "We are dealing here with a state that has fewer military resources than an independence movement." Gally said.
Fresh clashes in the north
Mali is receiving support from troops of the UN mission MINUSMA and from the French army but they can do little in the north. On Monday a French member of the Foreign Legion died as the result of suicide attack in northern Mali.
There have been frequent clashes in the region in recent days, for example in Anefis, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) south of Kidal. Army reports say these are clashes between the rebel groups MNLA and MAA.
This was immediately denied by MNLA spokesman Moussa Ag Assarid. According to him, the two groups are cooperating - after all, he said, they had sent a joint delegation to Algiers. He claimed it had been "units of the Malian army which attacked our positions at Anefis."
The Malian government was not prepared to make a statement on this to DW. "We are trying to ensure that the peace talks in Algiers can get off to a relaxed start," was the message from the Ministry of Reconciliation.
A first step was taken on Tuesday. As a gesture of goodwill, the Malian government and Tuareg rebels exchanged prisoners. Prime Minister Mara welcomed 45 released Malian soldiers and members of the police force at Bamako airport. Simultaneously, the Malian government set free 41 Tuareg rebels who had been arrested by security forces during raids in the north.
Author Hilke Fischer
Editor Mark Caldwell