Mali PM Says 'Dialogue Inevitable' with Two Rebel Groups

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Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra said Sunday that the government would eventually hold talks with two northern rebel groups, the Islamist Ansar Dine and the Tuareg MNLA, because they are both homegrown movements.

"Dialogue is inevitable. People who make up the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) or Ansar Dine are our compatriots," Diarra said after talks with the chief west African regional mediator, Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore.

Mali's desert north has been under the control of rebel groups since shortly after a March 22 coup, but the two other groups that have seized the region, Islamist rebel movements Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), are both made up mainly of foreign fighters.

Homegrown Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) and the ethnic Tuareg separatist group MNLA announced Friday that they were ready for talks with Bamako after meeting Compaore.

Diarra said he hoped conditions for dialogue would be met "as quickly as possible", but stopped short of proposing a timetable.

Diarra was appointed interim prime minister in April to help restore civilian rule after the March coup, appointing former junta members in the key ministerial portfolios of defense, internal security and territorial administration.

He said talks would not address "terrorists and drug traffickers (who) for the most part are not Malian citizens".

The new push for dialogue comes after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed on a plan to send 3,300 troops into Mali to reclaim the north. The plan must go before the U.N. Security Council by the end of the month.

Ansar Dine last week made important concessions, including backtracking from an earlier demand to see strict Islamic law, or sharia, imposed across all of Mali, saying instead it should only be implemented in the Kidal region it currently controls.

Islamist groups have drawn increasing international concern as they continue to operate unchecked in Mali's massive desert north and implement hardline religious rules, stoning people to death and amputating hands and feet from suspected thieves.

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