DAKAR — West African allies continue to explore a dual strategy against the al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants who seized northern Mali in April. ECOWAS - the Economic Community of West African States - is working to open negotiations with local armed groups, while finalizing its request for a U.N. intervention mandate to deploy regional troops to Mali.
The West African regional bloc faces a flurry of activity this week as it continues to prepare for war in northern Mali, all while it looks for a peaceful solution.
On Tuesday, ECOWAS Defense Chiefs of Staff will review a statement prepared by officials from the United Nations, African Union (AU), ECOWAS and neighboring countries, following five days of talks in Bamako.
The strategic concept
ECOWAS special representative to Mali, Aboudou Chaka Toure, said those talks were about finalizing the "strategic concept" for the military intervention and getting everyone on the same page.
He said officials reviewed the operational plans prepared by Mali and ECOWAS, and made adjustments so that everyone is comfortable with the plan. He said international partners drafted a strategic statement on what they agreed to be the objectives for the intervention and what each partner could contribute to the effort.
Toure said that ECOWAS defense chiefs, as well as the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council, will review and amend that intervention plan before it is presented to African heads of state Sunday at an African Union summit in Abuja.
ECOWAS and the AU have until November 26 to present a detailed plan for the regional intervention to the U.N. Security Council.
ECOWAS also continues to push Malian armed groups to break ties with al-Qaida and foreign jihadists, and come to the negotiating table.
A delegation from the Malian Islamist sect, Ansar Dine, is in Ouagadougou and is expected to meet with Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, who is leading ECOWAS mediation efforts.
Narrowing down the options
Mali Foreign Affairs Minister Tieman Coulibaly met Saturday with Compaore.
Coulibaly said the international framework to deal with the crisis is being put in place as they weigh the options, either political dialogue, which he said is the preferred option, or military action to rid the region of terrorists.
Ansar Dine is one of four armed groups active in northern Mali. The head of the Ansar Dine delegation, Alghabass Ag Intalla, told a VOA reporter in Ouagadougou the group is "ready to negotiate."
Burkina Faso Foreign Affairs Minister Djibril Bassole told reporters ECOWAS' position has not changed.
Ansar Dine, he said, must distance itself from terrorism and organized crime. He said Malian armed groups who voluntarily or involuntarily allied themselves with terrorist groups must clearly cut those ties, so that Mali can reunite and elections can be held throughout the country. But he said these negotiations would not in any way present an obstacle to the use of force. Force will be needed, he said, to deal with the terrorist groups who have also taken over this territory.