France excludes discussions with jihadists in Mali

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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian ruled out discussions with the jihadists during a visit to Mali on Monday with the two nations at odds on the path to peace for the West African nation.Mr. Le Drian insisted that there was a marked difference between negotiations with armed groups that had signed peace accords and what he called “terrorists”.

But interim Prime Minister Moctar Ouane disagreed, insisting that speaking to Islamist groups was essential to bring peace to Mali.

Indirect talks are said to be underway with the interim government, marked by the release of 200 jihadists in exchange for four people held captive by Islamist groups earlier this month.

About 200,000 people are displaced in Mali due to Islamist violence. No less than 4.3 million of Mali’s 18.4 million people depend on humanitarian aid, an increase of 1.1 million from last year.

Large swathes of the Malian population are escaping government control with jihadist groups deeply rooted in the communities.

France has 5,100 soldiers deployed in the Sahel region as part of its anti-jihadist operation Barkhane.

Le Drian was the first senior French official to visit Mali since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was ousted in a military coup in August.

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