Mali crisis: Tuareg rebels in talks with government

Algabass Ag Intalla (centre), leader of the Ansar Dine delegation, attends a mediation meeting with members of the Malian government and Tuareg rebels, hosted by Burkina Faso's president in Ouagadougou, 4 December 2012 Ansar Dine pledged to reject all forms of extremism - but have still to prove they have cut al-Qaeda ties

Government officials in Mali have held the first direct talks with rebel groups that seized the north of the country after a coup earlier this year.

The Burkina Faso meeting paves the way for more talks with Tuareg and Islamist rebels, as both have pledged to respect national unity and reject terrorism.

The West African regional group Ecowas had said it was ready to deploy 3,300 troops to reclaim rebel-held territory.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon backed a one-year deployment last week.

But he did not offer any financial support, and said African nations needed to answer basic questions about how the force - which would have the acronym Afisma - would be run.

Mr Ban said funding for any military operations should come from "voluntary or bilateral contributions".

Public unconvinced

Tuesday's talks in Ouagadougou resulted in the much-weakened separatist Tuareg rebels confirming they were renouncing hopes for an independent state in the country's north.

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Meanwhile the Islamist Ansar Dine group pledged to reject all forms of extremism, although the group has yet to prove this on the ground by cutting links with al-Qaeda-linked groups, says the BBC's West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy.

The Malian authorities now face a potentially bigger issue, adds our correspondent: Convincing all political parties and the population that it is indeed possible to sit down with both groups.

Shocked by a series of atrocities attributed to Islamists or Tuareg rebels, most Malians believe the time for negotiations is up and that a military intervention only will solve this crisis, he adds.

Islamists and Tuareg rebels captured large swathes of northern Mali after a coup in Bamako in March.

Their alliance then collapsed, with the Islamists taking the region's main urban centres.

The Islamists have destroyed ancient shrines in Timbuktu and have imposed a strict version of Islamic law, sparking international outrage.

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