Mali asks Islamic High Council to dialogue with al-Qaida

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s government has asked the country’s Islamic High Council to begin a dialogue with al-Qaida-linked groups in a new effort to address a nearly decade-long insecurity crisis.

It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian jihadist leaders Iyad Ag Ghaly and Amadou Kouffa of the al-Qaida-linked group known as JNIM, the council said.

Mohamed Kibiri, spokesman for the council, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he was asked by the government last week to launch discussions. He said they are working with their representatives in the country’s north.

“The only directive we have received is to negotiate only with the Malians,” he said. “The other jihadists we consider invaders.”

He also said the subject of Shariah law is not “taboo. Everything is negotiable.”

Mali’s minister of religious affairs and worship, Mamadou Koné, confirmed that the government asked the council to lead discussions with the two groups.

This is not the first time the Malian government has asked the council to open dialogue with jihadist groups. Earlier this year, the council reached a cease-fire agreement between an al-Qaida-linked group and local fighters in a village in the Niono circle in central Mali. The jihadists granted freedom of movement to the villagers, and peaceful cohabitation with the army and local armed groups, in exchange for compulsory veiling of women, collection of taxes and traditional justice.

Mali has been fighting growing insecurity since 2012, when al-Qaida-linked groups took over parts of the north. Despite a French-led military operation that forced many rebels from their northern strongholds in 2013, insurgents quickly regrouped and have been advancing year after year toward the south of the country, where the Malian capital is located.

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