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Mali govt denies approving jihadist negotiations

Mali’s government has denied that it plans to negotiate with jihadists, walking back an earlier statement from its religion ministry saying that it would do so. In a statement published on social media on Thursday night, the government in the Sahel state said that it had learned of plans for jihadist talks “through the press”. “No national or international organisation has been officially mandated to carry out such an activity,” the statement said. The government was directly contradicting a press release issued by its own religious-affairs ministry last week, which said that it had been charged with engaging in dialogue with Islamist groups. Jihadists are waging a brutal insurgency across much of the north and centre of the vast nation of 19 million people. Many Malians view holding talks as one of the few ways to end the violence that has raged in the country since 2012, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands more. However, France — which intervened in Mali in 2013 and has thousands of troops stationed in the country — has long viewed talks with jihadist groups as anathema. Malian authorities are nonetheless thought to have been engaging in unofficial talks with jihadists for some time. Last week’s statement from the religious-affairs ministry drew comment because it would have marked the first time the government formalised dialogue with extremist groups.

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