Mali Islamist group abandons ceasefire, resumes hostilities

An Islamist group in northern Mali says it's suspending its pledge to halt hostilities less than a month after it agreed to do so.

Al-Qaeda-linked group says peace talks really aimed at military intervention

Ansar Dine delegates attend a mediation meeting with the Malian government in December. The Islamist group said Friday it was suspending a ceasefire that lasted less than a month. (Ahmed Ouoba/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

An Islamist group linked to al-Qaeda that has maintained violent control over northern Mali says it's suspending its pledge to halt hostilities less than a month after it agreed to do so.

Ansar Dine said negotiations with the Malian government are ultimately aimed at a military intervention to oust the Islamists, and are not true peace talks.

Still, the group said that it remains committed to a dialogue with the Malian government in Bamako even though it is withdrawing its pledge to halt hostilities.

The original offer had drawn skepticism from some observers, who noted the group's links to al-Qaeda's North Africa branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

Last month, the director of Mali's Timbuktu tourism office said Ansar Dine rebels destroyed four historic mausoleums, reportedly angry over a UN resolution calling for military intervention in the region.

MacKay contemplates involvement

Ansar Dine also has been behind public executions, amputations and whippings in northern Mali. The group on its website says it seeks autonomy for northern Mali.

Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the government is examining options for sending troops to help train an African force. The African troops' purpose would be to fight the al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Robert Fowler is a Canadian diplomat and former special envoy for the UN secretary general in Niger, and was kidnapped in that country by al-Qaeda in 2008 before the group took him to Mali. Fowler told the CBC's Evan Solomon on Thursday that any Canadian involvement in the Mali situation would be "appropriate" and "timely."

"What we need to do in Mali is degrade and diminish al-Qaeda," said Fowler, who was held by al-Qaeda for 130 days. "If we don't do that, they will spread their contagion across the region."

'Terrified of these guys'

Fowler said al-Qaeda's goals are to extend their reach across widest part of Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, bringing with it chaos and anarchy.

"There's not a government in that region that isn't terrified of these guys," Fowler said, certain the "next battleground with radical jihadists will be in West Africa."

Mali was one of the biggest recipients of Canada's foreign aid before it was suspended in March after mutinous soldiers overthrew Mali's elected president.

The coup d'état created a power vacuum that enabled Islamists to grab the northern region of Mali, an area the size of France.

"Canada and the other developed countries have invested a hundred billion dollars [in the region]. Surely it makes sense to protect that investment," Fowler said.

With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press