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Tuareg rebel leader "optimistic" about negotiations with new Mali authorities led by IBK

Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, President of the negotiating committee composed of two Tuareg rebel groups in northern Mali which had signed a cease-fire agreement with the government in June, told Xinhua on Thursday that, with Ibrahim Boubarca Keita, "a man of rigor who does not follow the streets", elected as President, he is optimistic about future talks on administrative status of Azawad, the name rebels gives to the north of Mali, and strategies for its development.

Reached by phone in Ouagadougou, Boukina Faso, vice chairman of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) who held the negotiation committee MNLA-HCUA (HCUA for High Council for the unity of Azawad) reaffirmed their claim of "large autonomy," without which "a new r??beillion can not be prevented."

Since the rebels have manifested respect to the Ouagadougou agreement by leaving the presidential election to be held during the past two months, it is now up to the new authorities led by IBK to make gestures of respect to the same agreement, such as an opening of talks within two months, said the rebel leader.

Question: Mr. president of negotiation committee, ever since IBK is elected, have you addressed a message of congratulations to him? Will you attend his inauguration ceremony?

Answer: I have asked all the journalists who interviewed me to transfer my congratulations to President IBK. I do not have his number to congratulate him directly. If we are formally invited (to the inauguration ceremony), I do not see why we should not go for it.

Q: For the talks that should start, do you have any plans already ?

A: Yes, we have some ideas. We are ready. We have advanced a lot in preparing our claims. The Ouagadougou agreement said that the talks should start within 60 days after the inauguration of the new president. As actor of this agreement, we expect engagement from both sides.

Q: Once negotiations start, will you stick to your claim of autonomy?

R: But it's clear! We want a large autonomy for Azawad. The Azawad is Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, the area spreading south, till Douentza.

Q: As to social and economic affairs in this region, what are your claims?

A: We have a lot of demands. We are waiting for the set-up of the government to spread them on the table.

Q: If your claims are not accepted, what will be your answer?

A: We will continue with our goal. The crisis is not ready to be disposed of if either side does not have the will to bring out a definitive solution. We will continue.

Q: What if a future agreement concluded on the table are rejected by the population in the south?

A: We believe that IBK is a man of rigor, a man who respects his word. That's why among the 27 candidates, he was the only one who spoke out that there is a problem between the north and south and it must be resolved. No other candidate had the courage to say so. We knew this man. When he was prime minister, he did not follow the streets, he followed the truth. If he stays the man as we have known, there will be no problem in getting a definitive solution to the crisis. If some people rejects the agreement, the rebellion will not be stopped. They were all there when the rebellion broke out but they did nothing to prevent it. Now we can not prevent it either. So it's better to touch the bottom of the problem. For me, this is the ideal solution.

Q: Can we still say that you are optimistic about the negotiations ?

A: I'm very optimistic with IBK as the head of state. All Malians believe that he is a man who does what he says. We need men like that. All of us have something to win when IBK is elected president.

Q: You are currently in Ouagadougou. Will you come back to Mali in a short time ?

A: If conditions are met for our return, we will return. The first conditions are respect towards what has been said and opening of the negotiations. Now we can go back to Kidal, where our troops are stationed, without problem; but for Bamako, the security conditions are not met yet, I can not go there. The old power there did not respect its commitments regarding the agreement. When President IBK starts his new job, much will change since our fight is against a system that he had witnessed and against which he had also decried. Should there be any changes when he is sworn in, we will return home. We are not Boukinas, we are Malians.

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