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Ansar Dine Denies Reputed Offer to Drop Sharia

A picture taken on July 16, 2012 shows fighters of the Islamist group Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) sitting in the courtyard of the Islamist police station in Gao.
In Mali, spokesmen for Ansar Dine militants are denying reports that the group has offered to stop applying Islamic law in parts of Mali it controls.

Two Ansar Dine representatives spoke with VOA French to Africa after an Ansar Dine official, Hamada Ag Bibi, was quoted as saying the group is "waiving application of Sharia law across the entire Malian territory" except in the city of Kidal.

Sanda Ould Boumama, a spokesman for Ansar Dine in the city of Timbuktu, said the report from the French news agency is "absolutely false" and that Ansar Dine has never renounced Sharia.

The other spokesman, Mohamed Ag Aharid, said "those are not the words of Ansar Dine," only of the man who spoke them.

Aharid is spokesman for the Ansar Dine delegation in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, of which Bibi is also a part. The delegation is talking with Burkinabe officials about ways of resolving the Mali crisis.

Late Tuesday, the African Union endorsed a plan to send foreign troops to Mali to help oust Islamist militants who control the north.

The proposal must now clear the United Nations Security Council.

Mali's interim government requested forces to help drive out the militants, who seized control of the north after a coup in March toppled the elected government. The West African bloc ECOWAS is planning to send a 3,000-troop force.

Ansar Dine is responsible for at least three executions in its effort to impose a strict form of Islamic law.

The militants are alleged to have ties with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Ansar Dine has said it is ready to cut ties to terrorists and open negotiations with Mali's interim government.