The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) responded to the Malian interim president Dioncounda Traore’s invitation to hold talks on Saturday by saying that their one condition for holding negotiations would be the implementation of Islamic Shari’a law throughout Mali, according to AFP.
“We accept the hand Mr Traore has held out on one condition, that Mali implements Shari’a, the law of God, that’s the only condition,” Alioune Toure, a security chief in the northern, MUJAO-held city of Gao was quoted by AFP as saying.
Traore made the overture on Friday in a televised speech celebrating the 53rd anniversary of Mali’s independence from France. Though he offered talks in his speech, Traore also said, “as we are preparing for it, we will wage war if no other choice is left to us.”
In response, Toure said the northern Islamists were ready for war with the south, should that be what the south wants.
In his speech on Friday, Traore said the Malian army’s needed “re-equipment”. The Malian army has suffered greatly since a military coup in March earlier this year.
Almost two weeks ago, the Malian army shot 16 passengers in a vehicle at a checkpoint in Diabali, a town almost 400 kilometres northeast of the capital, claiming that the car refused to stop at the checkpoint, making the officers suspect the passengers were jihadists. However, the 16 killed were preachers were on their way to a religious conference. The incident highlighted the deteriorating situation within the Malian army, as AP investigations revealed that the rank-and-file soldiers who carried out the attack were acting without orders on their own initiative.
On 1 September, the Malian government requested military assistance from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to retake northern Mali from the Islamists. Friday witnessed a United Nations security council meeting where the 15 member-states promised to consider the request they received from ECOWAS to intervene in Mali, urging the ECOWAS to device a “feasible plan for intervention”, according to Reuters.
Islamist forces came to prominence in the region after the military coup that took place in March, leaving a power vacuum in the north of the country and providing the Tuareg-assisted Islamist rebels the opportunity to assume power. Since their takeover of northern Mali, the ethnic separatist Tuareg group has been largely sidelined by the various Islamist groups who now control the region, especially main north Mali cities of Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal and Douentza.