NOUAKCHOTT — A French envoy met with Mauritania's president Thursday on the crisis in northern Mali, saying that while dialogue was possible with some fighters it was not an option with "terrorist forces".
France's special representative for the Sahel region Jean Felix-Paganon said his meeting with President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was "exclusively about the situation in northern Mali".
For over five months the region larger than France has been held by armed groups, with Islamic extremists having sidelined their erstwhile allies from a Tuareg rebel group and taken firm control, implementing strict sharia law.
The two main groups Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have openly allied with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which has long held bases in the vast desert zone.
"We are in agreement on the gravity of the terrorist threat in northern Mali and the need to face it," Felix-Paganon told journalists after meeting the Mauritanian leader.
He said they also agreed on the "pressing need" for political dialogue with groups who are present in the north who could "take part in the common effort to reunite Mali".
"Things are clear to us. Dialogue is possible with some, but is radically impossible with the terrorist forces," said the envoy who led a delegation from France on a six-country tour of the region which ended in Nouakchott.
While in Burkina Faso Felix-Paganon announced that Mali had officially requested "a military contribution to stabilise the country and especially reconquer the north" from the Economic Community of West African States.
A letter written to current ECOWAS chief Ivorian leader Alassane Ouattara, seen by AFP on Thursday, shows that the request seeks a support role from the west African troops rather than a deployment into combat.
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