DAKAR — Mali's interim president Diouncounda Traore inaugurated the country's much awaited Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission Thursday. The commission is seen as essential to dealing with long-standing issues of security and governance in the north, but the question of what to do about the Tuareg separatist group - the MNLA - in the far northern region of Kidal, remains a major stumbling block to reconciliation.
President Diouncounda Traore told the 33 government-appointed members of the Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission that they are faced with a "delicate" and "difficult" mission. Their work, he said, is meant to be inclusive and impartial.
Your mission, he says, is to bring everyone together for dialogue and to work towards reconciliation. But, he says dialogue can only take place between Malians and only with those who renounce demands for independence or the imposition of Sharia and who also put down their arms.
That is precisely what the Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA, is refusing to do. The MNLA continues to hold the northern city of Kidal and told reporters in Paris Thursday that it would not disarm before negotiations with the Malian government, nor would it allow Malian soldiers in Kidal.
French and African troops liberated much of northern Mali in late January after 10 months of occupation by the MNLA and jihadist groups composed of both foreign and Malian fighters.
Tuareg fighters have launched repeated rebellions in northern Mali since the 1960s and signed multiple peace deals with the government. The MNLA launched this most recent rebellion in January 2012 and is calling for greater autonomy in the north, which it calls Azawad.
The newly inaugurated Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission is meant to be a forum for everyone, not just those who have taken up arms, to air their grievances. The commission will then make official recommendations to the government.
President Traore did not mention the MNLA by name, but he made repeated references to the region of Kidal.
He says he invites all Malians, inside and outside the country, from Kidal to Kaye and throughout the country - old and young, men and women - to support the commission in its work, as it is essential to rebuilding and reuniting the country.