Jan. 31 Photo Brief: Tent city for hackers, snow in Kiev, troops in Timbuktu, art of reflection, a homemade ventilator

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Sao Paulo hosts Campus Party for hackers and geeks, heavy snow hits Kiev, French troops and relative calm in Timbuktu, art of reflection, a home made ventilator keeps man alive for years in China and more in today’s daily brief.

Malian president offers Tuareg rebels talks
Benoit Tessier and Vicky Buffery | Reuters
2:27 p.m. EST, January 31, 2013

TIMBUKTU, Mali/PARIS (Reuters) – Mali’s president offered talks to Tuareg rebels on Thursday in a bid for national reconciliation after a French-led offensive drove their Islamist former allies into desert and mountain hideaways in the country’s vast north.

France’s three-week ground and air campaign has dislodged al Qaeda-linked fighters from northern Mali’s major towns, ending the first phase of an operation designed to prevent Islamists using the region as a launchpad for attacks on neighboring West African countries and Europe.

France is now due to gradually transfer the military mission to a U.N.-mandated African force of some 8,000 soldiers, tasked with securing northern towns and pursuing militants into their mountain redoubts near the Algerian border.

French air strikes have destroyed the Islamists’ training camps and logistics bases but Paris says a long-term solution hinges on finding a political settlement between Mali’s restive northern Tuareg community and the distant capital Bamako.

Under pressure from Paris, Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore said he was ready to open talks with the Tuareg rebel MNLA provided it honored a pledge to drop its claims of independence for northern Mali.

The MNLA seized control of north Mali in April before its revolt was hijacked by the better armed and financed Islamists.

“Today, the only group that we could think of negotiating with is certainly the MNLA. But, of course, on condition that the MNLA drops any pretence to a territorial claim,” Traore told French radio RFI, ruling out talks with any Islamist groups.

MNLA reoccupied its former northern stronghold of Kidal on Monday after al Qaeda-linked fighters fled French air strikes. It has offered to battle the Islamists in the nearby desert and Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, amid fears that the Malian army would carry out reprisals against Tuaregs in recaptured towns.

Any dialogue could anger Mali’s powerful and meddling military, which toppled the civilian government last year in frustration at its handling of the Tuareg uprising and is still smarting from the massacre of some 80 soldiers by Islamists at the northern town of Alguelhoc.

“We agree to negotiate but not with people who have committed crimes,” said one senior Malian military source.

Many ordinary Malians, particularly in the country’s south, also blame the MNLA for the current crisis. Traore, installed in office after the March military coup, has called national elections for July 31 to complete a political transition.

France, which seized Kidal’s airport on Tuesday, has been careful to maintain good relations with Tuareg chieftains. Its forces have not entered the town of Kidal but carried out airstrikes on Islamist training camps and logistics depots to the north at Aguelhoc and to the south at Almoustarat.

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