BAMAKO, May 18 — Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has described hostilities between the Malian government and rebel forces as an unnecessary stain on the legacy left behind by the founding leader of Mali, Modibo Keita, who advocated unity.

President Mugabe, who holds the Chair of the African Union currently, together with several leaders from
the Sahel region, was here to witness a landmark peace agreement signing ceremony between the Malian government and rebel forces from the northern part of the country.

President Mugabe was invited by Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to the event in his capacity as the current AU chairman. Since its independence from France in 1960, Mali has faced security challenges from rebel groups such as the Tuareg which are pushing for independence of the northern part of the country known as the Azawad.

In his speech, President Mugabe chronicled the work done by the late Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sekou Toure of Guinea and Keita of Mali in laying the foundation for the formation of the African Union.

He said the unity which was espoused by the founding fathers of the AU should inspire Malians, and Africans at large to stop hostilities against each other and stressed that Mali belonged to Malians regardless of differences of religion or beliefs.

President Mugabe encouraging dialogue between Mali’s warring parties and said fighting would not help to solve any dispute. “I thank President Keita for inviting me, but i come with a heart that is split, I come with a mind that is confused; how can Mali do this?” he asked.

President Mugabe hailed Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and other leaders involved in the peace process for their commitment to ensuring that durable peace returned to Mali. “He (President Keita) told me on arrival: ‘My brother, what is better to fight and have violence than to talk with even my small brother, even the small parties, they are all my people, I will talk to them rather than choose to fight them’.”

President Mugabe, who pledged the AU’s continued support to Mali until the finalization of the peace process, urged the main Tuareg rebel alliance who skipped Friday’s signing ceremony to join others to establish lasting peace in Mali.

Speaking at the same occasion, AU Commission deputy chairperson Erasmus Mwencha said the continental body would not hesitate to take stern measures against those who hampered implementation of the peace deal. “We know that the security situation in the North of Mali is still fragile given that terrorist groups are still active in the region, the AU will not allow these groups to compromise the implementation of the
agreement,” he said.

Other leaders who attended the signing ceremony included Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan and President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire.