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Minister: War still inevitable in northern Mali

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OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — War in northern Mali is inevitable, even if some militants there are now disavowing extremism, the foreign affairs minister of neighboring Burkina Faso said Thursday.

Djibril Bassole said Ansar Dine's recent willingness to engage in dialogue with the Malian government was "a positive development." The group made its declaration after several days of talks in Burkina Faso's capital.

Still, Bassole emphasized that the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS will need to stage an intervention.

"In northern Mali there are terrorist groups who are currently carrying out unacceptable acts," he told The Associated Press. "ECOWAS must be preparing itself to intervene with the support of the international community."

Bassole's declaration came a day after military experts from the United Nations, ECOWAS, Europe and the African Union drafted a plan to recapture northern Mali. The plan still needs final approval from the U.N. before it could be carried out.

Earlier this week, Ansar Dine said in Burkina Faso's capital that it denounced extremism and wanted to join a political dialogue. The declaration did not say what sort of impact there would be on the strict Islamic Shariah law the group has been carrying out in recent months — including public executions, amputations and whippings.

According to Bassole, Burkina Faso is ready to contribute to the military efforts to recapture northern Mali and stabilize the region. However, some analysts have expressed concerns about whether Mali's weak military is capable of leading such a regional effort in the country's north.

Mutinous soldiers overthrew Mali's democratically elected president more than seven months ago, creating a power vacuum that paved the way for Islamists to grab the north — an area the size of France.

Ansar Dine is now one of three Islamist groups controlling Mali's north, and its members are believed to be mostly Malians. The membership of the two other groups, one of them al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, consists primarily of foreign fighters.

Although Ansar Dine has imposed strict Islamic law, including carrying out punishments such as amputating the hands of thieves and stoning to death a couple who had children out of wedlock, authorities believe the group is the most open to negotiation because its fighters have ties to the area.

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