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Mali Islamists split as French-led offensives build up pressure

The alliance of Islamist militant groups showed signs of cracks Thursday as they were under increasing pressure exerted by a new spate of the French-led offensives.

The Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA), a faction of the al-Qaida-linked Islamist rebels occupying the north of Mali, announced it has split off from the Ansar Dine group and pledged to negotiate "a peaceful solution" to the country's crisis and possibly even fight against its former comrades in arms.

The split emerged as the government troops and their French allies intensified their military operations to push north and, in particular, two of the rebels' main bases, as well as their fuel stocks and armory, in northern Mali were destroyed in French air strikes.

As the French-led forces made steady progress in battling Islamist rebels, the Canadian government offered continued support Thursday by extending the loan of a CC-177 Globemaster III ferrying military supplies from France to the Malian capital Bamako until Feb. 15.

"This aircraft is available to France to move equipment and personnel to Mali's capital, Bamako. This aircraft and Canadian armed forces personnel will not be part of combat operations," it said in a statement.

In Paris, Mali's top Muslim leader rejected the actions of Islamist foreigners in north Mali and defended France's military intervention.

"Thank God (France) has intervened to protect us from those who wanted to conquer us and impose their way of living Islam," said Imam Mahmoud Dicko, head of the High Islamic Council in Bamako, in an interview published on Thursday.

In Sanna, however, the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) urged France to cease aggression and instead focus on its own economic interests.

"The French government's military intervention in Mali does not serve the internal interests of French people," the group said in the audio message posted on Jihadi forums on Thursday night.

The Malian government army, supported by its French allies, has made swift progress in fighting the Islamist rebels since Jan. 10, when Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore asks France for help following the rebels' capture of a government-held central town of Konna .

On Jan. 11, the Malian government declared a state of emergency as from Jan. 12 at midnight across the national territory for a period of 10 days.

On Monday, the Malian government announced to extend the nationwide state of emergency for three months.

[Source: Xinhua, Bamako, 25Jan13]

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