Mali's New Leader Says Talks with Rebels Possible

Nancy Palus

Mali's transitional prime minister says the country is ready to negotiate with Tuareg rebels in the north. But he insists that no Malian territory would remain occupied by armed groups.

In his first national address, which led the nightly newscast on Friday, interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra said the government’s top priority would be to re-conquer territory currently occupied by Tuareg rebels and Islamic groups.

He said all options are possible - first among them, negotiation.

Diarra says Mali will negotiate because it hates war and it is not afraid or ashamed to negotiate. But we will not negotiate, he says, with a knife to our throat, accepting a fait accompli. He says not a single centimeter of Malian territory will remain occupied by anyone, for whatever reason.

The former NASA astrophysicist called the armed takeover of northern Mali “incomprehensible” and “barbaric”, calling it unacceptable in the 21st century to express demands through armed violence.

He addressed communities in the north, telling them Mali will never abandon them and will stop at nothing to end their suffering as soon as possible.

Diarra takes his post as Mali faces the rebel occupation of the north and continued turmoil in the capital, where despite pledges to restore constitutional order, the military junta appears reluctant to abandon power.

Last week armed soldiers forcibly entered homes in the middle of the night and arrested 22 civilian and military figures, most of them close to ousted president Amadou Toumani Touré. The detainees, who were held at the junta's headquarters, were released within two days.

If Malians regret a military coup after 20 years of civilian rule and relative stability, most of those who spoke with VOA say the system under the Touré government was corrupt and had to be stopped.

In his address, Prime Minister Diarra said it must be acknowledged that Mali has suffered from flawed government and a failure to anticipate the current crises.  

He said given the gravity of Mali's current situation, personal and political interests must be put aside, adding that the transitional government’s ambition is to hand Mali to a new generation.

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