File picture: Tuareg fighters from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad patrol through a market in Timbuktu, Mali. At least 20 people were killed in a gunbattle in the northern Mali town of Gao on Wednesday between local Tuareg separatists and al Qaeda-linked Islamists

Bamako -

Representatives of an Islamist rebel group occupying northern Mali are headed to Burkina Faso to discuss the crisis in their country with mediator President Blaise Compaore, a spokesman said Friday.

“We have a delegation on its way to Ouagadougou to meet the mediator Blaise Compaore to discuss the crisis,” said Oumar Ag Ahmed, spokesman for the rebel group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith).

Compaore was appointed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to mediate the crisis in Mali after a March 22 coup which opened the way for Tuareg and Islamist rebels to seize the north of the country.

Ahmed said the Ansar Dine delegation wanted to discuss the re-establishment of “peace in northern Mali.”

On June 9 Compaore met with the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) which is also present in the north where it has proclaimed the independence of the state of Azawad, the homeland of the desert nomads.

The Tuareg in January launched a decades-old rebellion for independence, but the Islamists also moved in after the coup in the southern capital Bamako, and have sinced gained the upper hand.

The two groups with widely differing objectives and ideologies announced a merger and formation of a breakaway state in recent weeks which immediately fell apart over disagreements on the implementation of strict Islamic law.

Ansar Dine has been enforcing Sharia since moving into the northern cities, prompting several protests by citizens which have been violently oppressed.

An interim government has taken over from the junta, but has failed to make headway in dealing with the partition of the country. - Sapa-AFP