MARKALA, Mali/DAKAR | A split emerged on Thursday in the alliance of Islamist militant groups occupying northern Mali, as French and African troops prepared an offensive aimed at driving them from their safe haven in the Sahara.
A senior negotiator from the Ansar Dine rebels who helped seize the north from Mali’s government last year said he was now part of a faction that wanted talks and rejected the group’s alliance with al Qaeda’s North African franchise AQIM.
It was unclear how many fighters had joined the new Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA) faction. But the announcement will encourage international negotiators who have long sought to prise apart the Islamist alliance, seen as a major threat by Washington and other Western and regional powers.
“There has to be a ceasefire so there can be talks,” Alghabass Ag Intallah, an ethnic Tuareg, told Reuters from the Ansar Dine stronghold of Kidal in northeast Mali. The new MIA would focus its efforts on seeking autonomy for the northern homeland of the desert Tuaregs, he said.
For nearly two weeks, French aircraft have bombarded rebel positions, vehicles and stores in the center and north of Mali as a ground force of African troops assembles to launch a U.N.-backed military intervention.
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