BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali must negotiate with separatist Tuareg rebels to end renewed fighting in its northern desert, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Sunday during a visit to the West African state.
Nomadic Tuaregs seeking an autonomous desert homeland and bolstered by fighters and weapons from Libya’s war began attacking military garrisons in northern Mali last month, renewing a rebellion that had ended in 2009.
“There will be no military solution to these clashes, so the only path is dialogue that is as inclusive as possible to all who want to sit at the table,” he said, following a meeting with Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure.
He pledged France’s support in ending the fighting and said France was committed to helping Mali maintain its territorial integrity.
Scores of people have been killed in the fighting between Mali’s military, armed with helicopter gunships, and the Tuareg fighters, and the United Nations said more than 125,000 people have been forced from their homes.
The rebellion has complicated Mali’s efforts to fight al Qaeda operatives in the vast and lawless desert.
Recent fighting near Mali’s border with Mauritania killed 50 people, including 47 rebels, according to a hospital source working with the military’s medical service speaking to Reuters on Saturday. A rebel spokesman denied that, saying 30 soldiers were killed, along with only four rebels.
The fighting comes two months before Mali’s Apr. 29 presidential elections. President Toure, who is not standing in the polls, has said the vote will be held on time despite the fighting.