|Tuareg rebels ready for Mali talks|
City of Timbuktu falls to rebels in the north, as pressure mounts on coup leader to hand over power.
Last Modified: 02 Apr 2012 11:05
|Tuareg rebels in Mali's north have expressed a willingness to negotiate with the government or regional bloc ECOWAS after having seized the ancient city of Timbuktu.|
The rebel offensive came amid the chaos gripping the west African country following last week's military coup.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said they were no longer seeking to expand their area of control, having secured the borders of what the group considers to be a Tuareg homeland.
"Our objective it not to go further than the Azawad borders. We don't want to create problems for the government of Mali, and even less create problems in the sub-region," said Hama Ag Mahmoud, of the MNLA's political wing.
"We don't want to give anyone the impression that we're gung-ho for the war, so from the moment we have liberated our territories, our objective is achieved, we stop there."
He said that while his group had not yet been contacted regarding talks, they were open to them.
"We are open to all attempts ... [to] all means of negotiations through ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], through another organ or through big powers, we are effectively open, but for now we haven't received any attempt of negotiation," he said.
Earlier, the rebels overran Timbuktu, a long-time target of their movement.
"[Tuareg rebels] have arrived in the town. They are planting their flag," El Hadj Baba Haidara, a member of parliament for Timbuktu, told the Reuters news agency on Sunday.
A resident told the Reuters news agency that the rebels had hoisted the Tuareg flag at the governor's office, the mayor's office and the main military camp.
The capture of Timbuktu came hours after the rebels took the garrison town of Gao, following a withdrawal by Malian army forces.
Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Mali capital, Bamako, said that by capturing Timbuktu, the rebels had "managed to do what had eluded them for decades".
He said that when mutinous soldiers overthrew the government, they said it was with the intention of establishing a genuine democracy in Mali.
"However, what they failed to take into account was that the army was sort of disintegrating and that the rebellion was going to take advantage of that situation to claim more than one third of the country," he added.
Fighting under the banner of the MNLA, the rebels re-launched their decades-long military campaign for a separate homeland in mid-January and have since seized Kidal, another key town in the north.
The setbacks at the hands of the heavily armed rebels piled pressure on Mali's coup leaders who had been given until Monday to start handing back power or face sanctions by the ECOWAS regional bloc.
Threatened with crippling sanctions, coup leader Amadou Sanogo has agreed to reinstate the constitution and hold elections.
"We make the solemn commitment to restore, from this day, the constitution of the Republic of Mali of February 25, 1992, as well as the republic's institutions," Sanogo told journalists in Bamako.
He said the military rulers had "decided to engage, under the guidance of a mediator, in consultations with all the forces active in our country in the framework of a national convention".
These talks should lead to the creation of transitional organs "to organise free, open and democratic elections in which we will not participate," said Sanogo. He did not specify the duration of the transition.
And after that concession, neighbouring countries have agreed to mediate between the rebels and the military rulers.
Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, President of ECOWAS, told Al Jazeera the West African regional bloc was satisfied with Sanogo's intentions.
ECOWAS had earlier told the coup leaders to start handing over power or face sanctions.
"This is what ECOWAS demands, that the constitutional order be re-established," Ouedraogo said.
"And if the junta is now accepting this plan we do not see any other difficulty, we are ready to accompany them to restore normality and then we will see how to deal with the situation in the north.