by Staff Writers
Algiers (AFP) Nov 12, 2012
Algeria Monday renewed its call for a political solution to the Mali crisis after West African leaders agreed on a 3,300-strong force to wrest control of the occupied north from Islamist militants.
"We have not stopped emphasising that a way out of the crisis, through dialogue between the Malian authorities and the rebel groups in the north, is completely possible," foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani told AFP.
Belani referred to the "shared willingness to give a chance to peace through dialogue," expressed by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
"We believe that the discussions currently taking place with the rebel groups allow us to envisage a viable political solution that respects the sovereignty, unity and integrity of Mali," he added.
Facing a potentially violent ouster, Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine, one of those occupying key northern cities such as Timbuktu, last week called for dialogue with Bamako, saying it rejected all forms of "extremism and terrorism."
Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have imposed a brutal form of sharia Islamic law, stoning unmarried couples, amputating thieves' hands and whipping drinkers and smokers.
Their ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), long present in Mali's north, have triggered fears in the region and the West that the zone could become a haven for radicals.
In an interview with the weekend edition of Algeria's El-Watan daily, an Ansar Dine spokesman described AQIM as "made up of Islamists, like us," adding: "to ask us to fight other Muslims, that is not our philosophy."
At an emergency summit on Sunday in Abuja, ECOWAS leaders agreed on a 3,300-strong international force for one year to regain control of northern Mali, while stressing that dialogue remained the preferred solution to the crisis.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the current chairman of the regional bloc, said he hoped the Security Council would approve their plan by late November or early December.
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