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Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore has begun talks with Malian officials and Tuareg leaders from northern Mali to try to clear the way for a presidential election across the country next month.
Compaore is mediating in the Malian conflict, which last year split the vast sub-Saharan nation in two, on behalf of the regional Economic Community of West African States.
ECOWAS is seeking to ensure that elections take place across the whole of Mali's territory, including northern areas controlled by armed Tuareg forces who oppose the presence of government troops and civil servants.
The Burkinabe leader on Monday first met Tiebile Drame, the Bamako government's envoy for northern Mali, the day Malian authorities issued draft legislation providing for a presidential election in two months' time.
“The Malian authorities plan to hold the first round of a presidential election on July 28, so we have to move fast and even very fast, leading the different parties to an agreement on an interim accord,” Drame said after his meeting with Compaore.
“We have high hopes that we can move quickly towards the signing of an interim accord” enabling the election to be held throughout all Mali's territory, he added.
However, the key northeastern town of Kidal is occupied by the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA) and another Tuareg armed group, the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA), which both reject the return of the Malian army and administrators appointed by the Bamako government.
Azawad is the name Tuaregs give to the northern desert part of Mali, which they consider to be their heartland and for whose independence rebel groups have fought for years.
The MIA recently became part of a High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), an organisation formed with the aim of federating all armed movements still active in northern Mali.
Drame said he wanted an inclusive pact among “all armed groups of northern Mali” and that he hoped “conditions will very soon be right for the Malian state, by way of all its representatives, to return” to contested territory.
Compaore also met an MNLA delegation headed by the movement's president, Bilal Ag Acherif, whose deputy Mahamadou Djeri Maiga subsequently said that the MNLA was “fully disposed to discussions because we know this is the only way to bring lasting peace to the zone.”
The MNLA, a secular Tuareg movement that favours self-determination, conquered northern Mali in 2012 with Islamist allies linked to al-Qaeda who went on to sideline the Tuareg forces before France intervened militarily in January with African allies and reconquered towns in the north.
The MNLA recently accepted the principle of an election in the zone it controls, but demanded that security be provided by United Nation forces rather than the Malian army.
The final delegation seen by Compaore came from the HCUA and was led by Hamada Ag Bibi, who said his group would “not oppose” the holding of the poll which could usher in “a legitimate power”, a president who would be ready to hold negotiations on the future of Azawad. Ag Bibi did not address the issue of organising the vote in Kidal. - Sapa-AFP