Mali president acknowledges contacts with jihadists


Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar for the first time said his government had been in contact with jihadist rebels  (Photo: AFP)

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has for the first time acknowledged contacts with jihadist insurgents, an option the government has long rejected.

"The number of deaths in the Sahel is becoming exponential and it's time that certain paths be explored," he said in an interview with French media due to be broadcast on Monday.

Mali has struggled to contain a jihadist revolt that broke out in the country in 2012, claiming thousands of military and civilian lives since.

But dialogue with jihadist leaders such as Amadou Koufa and Iyad Ag Ghali has long been considered beyond the pale for the government in Bamako.

In the interview, Keita appeared to have changed course on past refusals to engage jihadists.

"We are ready to build bridges for dialogue with everyone... at some point, we have to sit around a table and talk," he said.

He said he had sent former president Dioncounda Traore "on a mission."

"He is my high representative, so his job is to listen to everybody," the president said.

Traore was chiefly tasked with seeing if there were people who "could be sensitive to a discourse of reason".

However, Keita also said he was "not naive" about the likelihood of success.

"Those who order others to enter a mosque and blow themselves up in the middle of the faithful don't have much of my esteem," he said.

A 2017 national conference gathering Keita's party and opposition parties urged holding direct talks with jihadists as a way to solve the crisis in Mali.

The government never followed up the recommendations, however.