Militiaman from the Ansar Dine Islamic group
Ansar Dine

A couple accused of being in an adulterous relationship have been stoned to death in northern Mali, according to a spokesman for Ansar Dine, the Islamist group which controls much of the region.

Sanda Abou Mohamed told the Associated Press that the couple was executed according to Sharia law, the enforcement of which represents Ansar Dine's primary mission.

Reports from eyewitnesses in Aguelhok, near the city of Kidal, suggest the couple were buried up to their necks, and then pelted with stones until they died on 29 July.

Ansar Dine, which has links to the Algerian terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), seized much of northern Mali with the help of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) in March, following a military coup which ousted president Amadou Amani Toure in the capital of Bamako.

Soon after the coup the alliance between Ansar Dine and the NMLA collapsed, leaving the Islamists in control of most of the territories gained.

Following international pressure Amadou Sanago, leader of the original coup, agreed to hand over power to a transitional government in April.

Call for talks

Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore, who recently returned to Bamako after two months of medical treatment in Paris, has renewed calls for dialogue with the Islamist group.

The president made the call during his first national address since being treated for injuries sustained during an attack by supporters of the March coup.

Traore said he would lead negotiations for the formation of a unity government in Mali, and insisted Islamists should be included in the talks.

Emphasising the need for cohesion, the president said Malians should unite against "invaders" - referring to rumours that foreign jihadist fighters are operating in the north of the country.

"Given the complexity of this crisis and the extent of the distress of our people from the north... we must together, I say together, clear the path ahead to free our country from these invaders, who only leave desolation, deprivation and pain in their wake," Traore said.

Islamist groups currently control three of the region's main cities - Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. Earlier this month, however, the groups faced international condemnation after Islamists fighters destroyed a series of ancient Muslim shrines in Timbuktu, which they claimed were idolatrous.