Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine has said it is prepared to distance itself from Al-Qaeda's North Africa branch, a newspaper said on Saturday, a day after sending a delegation to Algiers for peace talks.
Ansar Dine's leader Iyad Ag Ghaly "would be ready to officially distance himself from AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and play the 'democracy' game," El-Watan reported, citing an Algerian official.
A statement from Ghaly could be expected in "the next few days," the "credible" source added, saying that the Islamist leader would cut ties with AQIM and instead support international dialogue on the Mali issue.
Ansar Dine is one of the radical Islamist groups controlling northern Mali, having hijacked a separatist rebellion by the secular Tuareg that caused a coup earlier this year.
The group destroyed ancient shrines in Timbuktu and has applied brutal interpretations of Islamic law in the areas under its control.
A source close to the extremists said on Friday Ansar Dine had sent a delegation to Algiers and another to Ouagadougou.
"We are in favour of peace, and dialogue is necessary for peace. That is why we have sent these delegations," he said. The envoys may also make a stop in Nigeria, another source within Ansar Dine told AFP.
The UN Security Council on October 12 approved a resolution urging a joint African union military force to speed up preparations for a force of more than 3,000 troops that would attempt to help recapture the occupied Malian north.
Algeria is seen as a key player in dealing with Islamic extremism, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the regional heavyweight on Monday to press for support in the Mali crisis.
The latest talks come as international experts meet in Bamako to firm up plans for the armed intervention.
The Ansar Dine delegation to Burkina Faso arrived on Friday, but Algiers on Saturday had still not officially confirmed the arrival of the second.