12/21/2012 19:48 GMT
by Beatrice Khadige
ALGIERS, Dec 21, 2012 (AFP) - Two Malian rebel groups said Friday they were committed to suspending hostilities and holding peace talks, despite condemning the UN's approval of plans for an African-led intervention to reconquer the country's Islamist-held north.
Representatives from Ansar Dine, one of the Islamist groups that have seized the north, and the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), an ethnic Tuareg separatist group, lashed out at the UN Security Council for supporting the planned intervention but vowed to work toward a peaceful solution.
Ansar Dine and the MNLA said they had agreed "to refrain from all action likely to generate confrontations and all forms of hostility in the zones under their control and to do everything necessary to get this commitment respected".
The groups are both homegrown movements seen as more moderate than their sometime allies in the vast desert north, Al-Qaeda linked jihadist groups the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Ansar Dine and the MNLA have engaged in talks with Mali's interim government and had pledged earlier this month to respect the country's territorial integrity and root out "terrorism".
But addressing reporters Friday after meeting in Algeria, the two groups lashed out at the Security Council's unanimous decision Thursday to back West African plans for a 3,300-troop intervention.
"We denounce this decision. We have always denounced the (planned) military intervention and we have said that it is not the solution," said Ansar Dine representative Mohamed Ag Akharib.
The statements came after Mali's government hailed the Security Council decision on the West African intervention plan as a sign that the world would not abandon the country.
"We are grateful to the international community, a consensus has been reached on the Malian situation," said an advisor to Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore.
"We are going to wage war against the terrorists and continue to negotiate with our brothers who are ready for dialogue."
Another Mali politician, Mustapha Cisse, said the UN vote showed "the willingness of the international community not to abandon Mali to its own devices."
The Security Council resolution gave the African-led force an initial one-year mandate to use "all necessary measures" to help the Malian government take back territory seized in the wake of a March military coup.
But the 15-member council insisted that military force could only be used after political efforts were exhausted. It said military plans would have to be refined and approved before any offensive started.
Former colonial power France drew up the Mali resolution after weeks of talks with the United States, which had expressed doubts that the force proposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would be tough enough for the desert battle against the militants.
The United States finally co-sponsored the resolution and is expected to become a major backer of the new force.
The resolution calls for political efforts to draw the Tuareg rebels in the north into a coalition against the Islamists. In parallel, European nations and the international force will train Mali's enfeebled army.
The jihadist groups have imposed a brutal form of Islamic law in the north, and their takeover has raised fears they could use the territory as a base for attacks on Europe and the region.
The Security Council also called on the transitional authorities in Bamako to re-establish constitutional order and hold elections before April 2013.
It urged them to engage in "credible" negotiations with groups in the north, including the sidelined Tuaregs.
A move toward a military offensive would come in a second phase.
Rights and aid groups have meanwhile warned an intervention risks worsening the situation for Malians.
"An international armed intervention is likely to increase the scale of human rights violations we are already seeing in this conflict," said Amnesty International West Africa researcher Salvatore Sagues.
The conflict has so far displaced more than 400,000 people, according to the UN.