Mali president won't meet with militants

Feb. 1, 2013 at 11:16 AM
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BAMAKO, Mali, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Mali's interim president said he will not talk with Islamic militants who took control of the north, but is willing to meet with Tuareg rebels.

The Islamic militants were forced out of their last stronghold of Kidal by French troops this week after they regained control of the cities of Timbuktu and Gao.

Interim President Dioncounda Traore said he would not hold talks with the militants but will consider meeting with the Tuareg rebel group MNLA if it abandons territorial claims, Voice of America reported Friday.

The MNLA seized part of northern Mali last year and later joined forces with the Islamic militants. The rebels split from the militants when they attempted to impose Sharia law and then backed the French operation.

NATO will not become involved in the Malian conflict, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday, quoted by Radio France Internationale.

"I don't see a role for NATO as such in Mali," he said. "I also appreciate that individual NATO allies have decided to support France in that very important mission. But the U.N. Security Council has decided that there should be an African-led stabilization force and this is a reason why I don't see a role for NATO."

French President Francois Hollande said the French military will be turning over control of the conflict to African Union-backed troops, the BBC reported. He said French troops will likely return home sooner than expected because they took control of northern Mali quickly, Voice of America reported.

Hollande is scheduled to visit Mali Saturday along with Foreign Minister Lauren Fabius, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Development Minister Pascal Canin, the BBC reported.

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