One of the major factions comprising the rebels in northern Mali has split from the rest of the group, saying it would like to hold talks over how to solve the conflict.
The move comes more than a week after French troops were deployed to the West African nation to deal with the Islamist insurgents who took over much of Mali and were threatening to march on the capital, Bamako.
The faction that split off was part of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, which helped overtake a number of towns in northern Mali last year, with a senior negotiator for the rebel group telling Reuters that he was now part of the new Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA) faction.
“There has to be a ceasefire so there can be talks,” Alghabass Ag Intallah, an ethnic Tuareg, told Reuters. He was speaking from the Ansar Dine stronghold in Kidal. He stressed that the MIA faction would focus on seeking autonomy for the Tuaregs.
“We are not terrorists. We are ready to negotiate,” he told The Associated Press.
He rejected an alliance with rebels from al-Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM, which has been the main driving force behind the takeover of northern Mali. “We want to wage our war and not that of AQIM,” Intallah told Reuters.
Intallah also said that his group is neither Ansar Dine nor MUJAO, another rebel group. “We are a group of people from the north of Mali who have a set of grievances that date back at least 50 years,” he told AP.
Ansar Dine allied with AQIM and other groups to battle Malian troops last year and imposed their own harsh interpretation of Shariah.
According to Radio France International, the MIA is ready and willing to fight against its former allies, but it is unclear how many fighters would join the new splinter group.
An official from Kidal, who requested anonymity, told AP that the split would indeed happen because Intallah and his fighters did not buy into Ansar Dine’s rhetoric.
“They never believed in this ideology. Now they are running for the exits,” the official said.
The split comes after French fighter planes bombarded rebel targets in Mali and troops took over bases. Islamist fighters have appeared to have left their bases and several cities, but they still control a large swath of territory in the north.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.