Mali government mulls dialogue with jihadists in hopes of ending conflict

FILE PHOTO: UN Peacekeepers on an early morning patrol in Gao, Mali. (Jane Hahn for the Washington Post/Getty Images)

Mali is willing to talk to jihadist groups in efforts to bring an end to the deadly conflict that has rendered parts of the country ungovernable.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Monday said the time had come to explore other avenues in the quest to pacify his country.

“Why not try to contact those who we know are pulling the strings,” he said in a recording of the interview published by Radio France Internationale.

“The number of dead in the Sahel is becoming exponential. It’s time for certain avenues to be explored.”

The Malian army has suffered losses in recent months at the hands of Islamist fighters who have also stepped up attacks in neighbouring countries.

President Keita did not say what would be done to talk to the Islamist groups, but tasked former president Dioncounda Traore, his high representative to central Mali, with “listening to everyone”.

Mali in 2013 received help from France in the fight against the jihadists who had seized the northern regions. While the presence of French troops pushed the militants back, they seem to have regrouped and are attempting to extend their reach into the central parts of the country.

The International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention body, said last year that seeking dialogue with jihadists may encounter some opposition within Mali and abroad from those who fear it could legitimize the groups and their ideas.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 456 civilians were killed and hundreds more wounded in central Mali, making 2019 the deadliest year for Malians since the start of the Sahel.