BAMAKO, Mali — The Malian government remains "open to talks" with Tuareg rebels despite one of their leaders declaring a return to war, Prime Minister Oumar Tatam Ly said Tuesday.
Tatam Ly, in an interview with the pro-government daily L'Essor, downplayed the war declaration made Friday by Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, vice president of the Tuareg's National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
"It's not a declaration from the MNLA [but] . . . from a vice president of the MNLA," Tatam Ly said. "We are open to discussions . . . to get to inclusive negotiations that should lead to peace in the region," he said.
The MNLA in June signed a peace deal to end their latest insurgency, which started in January 2012 but was hijacked by extremists linked to al-Qaida, prompting a French-led military intervention in January this year to roll back the armed Islamists.
However, longstanding Tuareg demands for autonomy for Azawad, the name they give to territory they traditionally roam in northern Mali, remain unresolved and sporadic violence still occurs.
Maiga on Friday said the MNLA will launch attacks wherever it finds the army following a Tuareg protest the day before at the airport in the rebel-controlled northeastern city of Kidal, when Malian soldiers fired shots.
The protesters had swarmed onto the airport's runway to prevent Tatam Ly's plane landing there.
The Malian government said its troops, coming under gunfire and stone throwing from the crowd, had fired warning shots.
But Tuareg rebels said one person was killed and three women and two children were injured.