France calls for Mali peace talks

France calls for Mali peace talks

Tombouctou : Mali | Jan 31, 2013 at 4:59 AM PST
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Oscar-nominated film Rebelle about child soldiers

After fighter planes, paratroopers and armored cars have driven al-Qaida-backed rebels into the Sahara, France is calling for Mali peace talks.

"This political process now has to advance concretely," French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said Wednesday, Agence France Presse reported.

"Only a north-south dialogue will prepare the ground for the Malian state to return to the north of the country," he said. The BBC said France also is hoping for intervention by a UN force. African peacekeeping teams have failed to install themselves in sufficient numbers after several weeks.

From the start it looks like a Rubik cube of negotiations, with some groups being excluded from the start. Paris and the Mali government, in the process of moving from a military regime to democracy, rule out what they call Islamist terrorists. Mali interim President Dioncounda Traoré said he wouldn’t talk with the Islamist groups who took control of the country's north last year, saying Ansar Dine is “not eligible for dialogue, whatever clothes they are wearing." He spoke with RFI-France 24.

It appears that all Paris’s proxies and all its men won’t be able to put peaceful Mali back together again quickly.

The rebels, all groups, and the Malian Army, have been accused of atrocities.

“The Tuareg rebellion, Islamist occupation of the north, and political upheaval generated by a March military coup led to a drastic deterioration in respect for human rights in Mali. The insecurity led to the displacement of some 400,000 northern residents,” according to Human Rights Watch’s report World 2013 released Wednesday.

The HRW report details widespread human rights violations by Tuareg separatists and the al-Qaida-backed Islamic fundamentalists, including executions of soldiers. But it also reports on executions of its perceived opponents by the army. In some cases bodies were thrown down wells.

Human Rights Watch issued a new report just on Mali Friday. Human Rights Watch Mali Report Feb. 1, 2013.

The US Army had trained Malian soldiers, but admitted they had committed crimes. US Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of Africa operations, said, “This is worrisome for us …” Ham said US forces focused Malian training almost exclusively on tactical and technical matters. “We probably didn’t spend the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and military ethos,” DefenceWeb reported.

On the war front, the Islamists have been unable to stand up to the French attacks, which have had the support of Britain and the US warplanes, launched from France, were able to bomb the Islamist-held cities in the north, including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. France sent 2,500 soldiers, including French Foreign Legion units.

HRW identified the rebel units: “The groups occupying the north included the separatist Tuareg MNLA; a local ethnic Arab militia, based in and around the city of Timbuktu; and three Islamist groups—Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)—which seek to impose a strict interpretation of Sharia or Islamic law throughout Mali. MUJAO and AQIM are primarily made up of foreign fighters.”

The Bamako government and Tuareg separatists have indicated a willingness to meet. The Tuaregs broke with the Islamist groups after they imposed brutal Sharia law and attempted to curb music, one of Mali’s best-known achievements in the outside world.

Both the Islamists and the government have been accused of recruiting child soldiers, though the government is not known to have used them in fighting.

The Mali civilian government’s power is limited because coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo still meddles in public affairs nearly a year after ousting President Amadou Toumani Touré.

President Traoré has suggested elections could be held in July, returning the nation to civilian rule, Africa Review reports.

In news that became public Thursday, it was reported the British Air Force has deployed a Sentinel surveillance aircraft to an air base in Africa in support of French military operations in Mali. AFP said a landmine killed two Malian soldiers in territory recaptured from Islamist rebels.

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This Oscar-nominated French-Canadian film, known in English as War Witch and in French as Rebelle, was filmed in Congo. It shows what happens to a young girl when she is forced to kill her parents and become a child soldier with rebels fighting the government.
Robert Weller is based in Denver, Colorado, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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