Sahel: possible negotiations with “certain elements” of jihadist groups, according to Paris

Negotiations are possible in the Sahel with elements of jihadist groups but remain excluded with the leadership of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, the French presidency said Monday, noting that a summit on the regional situation would be held in Africa in February.

We are waging a war against two organizations that are not Sahelian but international and who are waging a terrorist fight beyond the region, said a source to the Élysée in an interview with AFP.

Together with ISIS in the Greater Sahara (EIGS), designated as the number one enemy at the Pau summit in January 2020, there is no negotiation possible, there will be none and no one asks for it in the region, says the Elysée.

However, the issue is more complex with the Muslims and Islam Support Group (GSIM, also known as Jnim), an alliance of organizations that gave allegiance to Al-Qaeda.

The GSIM staff responds to the central hierarchy of Al-Qaeda and is fully integrated into its organization chart, the Elysee explained. No one has ever managed to negotiate with Al-Qaeda and France will not do it.

But, the same source adds, some elements of the GSIM have a much more national agenda, often opportunistic, sometimes regional. With these interlocutors, it is possible to have another answer than that of the fight against terrorism (…). There is no reason for France to obstruct such discussions between the Sahel States and these groups.

This question has been a sea snake in the region for years, and especially in Mali. She had returned to the forefront in October, when four hostages were released, including Frenchwoman Sophie Pétronin, after negotiations led by Malian emissaries with whom France had officially not been associated.

Eliminate some actors

It is not France that watches the trains pass, it is the Malians who decide on their own organisation, insisted the French Presidency, reiterating in this regard its commitment to the revival of the 2015 peace agreement, concluded under Algerian mediation.

Whenever interlocutors from North Mali wanted to sit down to discuss the +Algiers Agreements, there have been immediate reprisals with targeted assassinations, says the Elysée. Our goal is, by eliminating some leaders, to allow Malians and others to sit at a table.

He also indicated that the evaluation of the decisions taken at the Pau Summit would be the subject of an in Africa summit around mid-February.

It is in discussion with our interlocutors in the G5 Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, ed.) to see what is the most appropriate timetable, said the Elysée.

France has been considering a possible reduction in Barkhanes numbers for a few weeks, according to several sources contacted by AFP.

The question concerns in particular the recall of the 600 additional men sent to the area, out of a total of 5,100 today, after the Pau summit, the Presidency said Monday.

The indications are rather in the direction of withdrawal of these reinforcements, given the results achieved on the ground and the ability of our Sahelian partners to assume after-sales service, i.e. stabilization work once the territories are recovered, she explained.

Decisions are not taken and depend on consultations between Paris and its partners, as well as the role of the United Nations and the European Union, according to the same source.