Tuareg rebels, Mali officials in 'positive' talks
4/16/2012 3:10:01 PM -
NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) - A leader of the Tuareg rebel group that has declared an independent state in northern Mali said Monday that a first official meeting between the rebels and Malian authorities had gone well.
"We've had official contact with the Malian delegation that we can describe as positive," Hamma Ag Mahmoud, a member of the political branch of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), told AFP after the meeting late Sunday in Mauritanian capital Nouakchott.
The meeting "enabled us to confirm our willingness to have a dialogue, but we did not get into the details," he added.
He said the MNLA would not reverse its declaration of an independent state of Azawad, but added: "Independence can be negotiated within the framework of a Malian federation."
He said the Malian delegation would draw up a calendar, agenda and ground rules for future talks.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz greeted the delegation, sent by interim Malian President Dioncounda Traore.
The delegation, led by Tiebile Drame, a former cabinet minister, also met with leaders from north Mali's Arab community.
Drame left Mauritania for Mali on Monday after handing the Mauritanian president a message from his interim counterpart in Mali asking for Mauritania's help in resolving the crisis in the north.
The impoverished country was plunged into crisis when a group of low-ranking army officers launched a coup that toppled president Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22.
Coup leaders justified their action by denouncing the government's ineffective resistance to the Tuareg rebellion which was rekindled in January.
But the rebels, together with Islamists, took advantage of the disarray in Bamako to seize the north, capturing an area roughly the size of France, including the ancient town of Timbuktu.
The MNLA's declaration of an independent state drew international condemnation.