An Islamist group in Mali says it has reopened talks with Tuareg rebels to create an independent Islamist state in the north of the country.
In an interview with a VOA reporter, members of the al-Qaida-linked extremist group Ansar Dine confirmed Saturday the group has reopened talks with the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA.
This comes a day after a senior member of the Tuareg rebels said the group is pulling out of any deal to form an independent state in order to maintain its "staunchly secular" character.
The deal, signed on May 26 in the northern town of Gao, called for Tuareg rebels and Ansar Dine to join forces for an independent state of Azawad. The state would be operated under strict Islamic law, or Sharia.
The Tuareg rebels and Islamist fighters joined forces in a fast-moving offensive to seize northern Mali following a military coup in March in the capital, Bamako. Mali's transitional government has rejected the rebels' declaration of independence in the north.
The Tuaregs are seeking to create an independent secular state of Azawad, while Ansar Dine wants to impose Sharia across the entire country.
Sect members have started introducing hardline Islamic law in key regional areas including Gao and Timbuktu. However, residents in the region who are accustomed to a moderate form of Islam have resisted the new measures.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP.