Switzerland continues to support mediation between the Mali government and rebel Tuareg groups despite an escalation of the conflict following the French military intervention, Swiss diplomats told Sunday newspapers.
“The mediation continues. Switzerland is staying on the ground in Mali with its own people and supports mediation efforts,” said Yves Rossier, State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, in an interview with “Der Sonntag”.
The country supports the mediation, led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), between the Mali government and the Tuareg group Azawad National Liberation Movement MNLA, which represents the population in the north. The group does not have any military power, but is important for the time following the conflict, Rossier said.
In a separate interview with “NZZ am Sonntag” Claude Wild, head of the ministry’s Human Security Division, said that Switzerland is primarily in contact with representatives within the secular movement MNLA, adding that Switzerland “does not have any contact with terrorist groups of the radical jihadists, with whom there is nothing to negotiate.”
Rossier said the negotiations between the MNLA and the Mali government were on the brink of being concluded in 2012. "But on the day following the signing of the agreement in December, the Islamist Tuareg group Ansar Dine backed down, left the mediation table – and attacked the south,” Rossier recounted.
France intervened in Mali earlier this month after militants had started advancing toward the capital. France is trying to push Islamist groups back to their hide-outs in the north to buy time for the deployment of an African force, which would stabilize the situation.
Both diplomats consider the military intervention of France “legitimate" considering the situation in Mali. Because if the Islamist groups had conquered Mopti, the road to the capital Bamako would have been clear, Rossier said, adding that it “would have led to a blood bath.”
Switzerland has been trying since 2009 to get a dialogue going between the minorities in northern Mali and the government in Bamako. The US and France encourage Switzerland to pursue its commitment in the region, Wild told the Sunday newspaper.
The conflict in Mali is not just an African problem, Rossier said. “If the terrorists and criminal groups succeed in establishing a legal vacuum in northern Africa, then Europe’s interests are clearly also at stake,” the State Secretary explained.
swissinfo.ch and agencies