Mali rebel group merger stalls over links to al-Qa'ida

Talks between two rebel groups in northern Mali who signed an initial agreement to merge and create a new Islamic state have run into problems over the imposition of shariah law and the influence of a group linked to al-Qa'ida.

The National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (NMLA), a separatist group fighting for independence, and Ansar Dine, whose fighters want to impose an extreme form of Islam, took over the northern half of Mali in late March when a coup in the distant capital, Bamako, created disorder.

On Saturday, the two groups agreed in principle to merge and create a transitional council and an army of the "Islamic State of Azawad". But since then, talks on a final declaration have stalled.

An NMLA spokesman said it does not want a strict form of Islamic law imposed in any new state and is worried about Ansar Dine's links with al-Qa'ida's affiliate in North Africa called al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb. The terror cell is responsible for dozens of kidnappings in the region and attacks on Western targets.

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