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Burkina Faso government says it is open to talks with jihadists

by Reuters
Thursday, 4 February 2021 18:43 GMT

OUAGADOUGOU, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Burkina Faso's government said for the first time on Thursday that it was open to talks with Islamist militants to try to end a growing insurgency, echoing a position taken by authorities in neighbouring Mali.

Nearly a decade after militants linked to al Qaeda briefly seized control of northern Mali, governments across West Africa's Sahel region again find themselves struggling to contain the jihadists, leading some to reconsider prior opposition to talks.

"If we want to end the security crisis, we will need to find paths and ways to talk with those responsible for terrorist attacks so that we are in peace," Prime Minister Christophe Dabire said in response to a question in parliament.

Attacks in Burkina Faso by fighters linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have surged in Burkina Faso since 2018, contributing to a humanitarian crisis that has forced more than one million people to flee their homes.

Mali's former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said a year ago that his government was prepared to negotiate with the local al Qaeda affiliate, and the current government has reaffirmed that position.

It is not clear if any progress has been made since then. The al Qaeda affiliate said it would only attend peace talks if Mali's government expels French and United Nations forces.

Former colonial power France, which has over 5,000 troops in the Sahel to fight the militants, has said it opposes talks with the jihadists. (Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga; Writing by Aaron Ross and Alistair Bell)

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