Bamako // Mali’s Tuareg-led rebel alliance yesterday signed a landmark deal to end years of unrest in a nation riven by ethnic divisions and in the grip of an extremist insurgency.
The Algiers Accord aims to bring stability to the vast northern desert, cradle of several Tuareg uprisings since the 1960s and a sanctuary for extremist fighters linked to Al Qaeda.
The document was signed in May by the government and loyalist militias but the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), a coalition of Mali’s main rebel groups, had held out until amendments were agreed two weeks ago.
Sidi Brahim Ould Sidati, a member of the Arab Movement of Azawad, put his name to the document in a televised ceremony in the capital Bamako on behalf of the CMA.
Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders, former head of the UN peacekeeping force in Mali, and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius welcomed the CMA’s commitment to the accord and urged Mali to ensure the deal was implemented.
“This responsibility lies primarily with the Malian actors, and the government and armed groups must regain mutual trust – the only possibility for progress,” they said in French daily Le Monde published on Friday.
Ramtane Lamamra, the foreign minister of Algeria, which has led efforts to mediate talks, attended the signing the deal.
The accord, hammered out under the auspices of the United Nations, calls for the creation of elected regional assemblies but stops short of autonomy or federalism for northern Mali.
The Malian government and several armed groups signed the document on May 15 in Bamako, in a ceremony spurned by the CMA.
The rebels agreed to commit on June 5 after winning a stipulation that its fighters be included in a security force for the north, and that residents of the region be represented better in government institutions, among other concessions.
Bamako-based political commentator Souleymane Drabo, a columnist at the pro-government L’Essor daily, warned that the CMA’s signature did not guarantee peace.
“In 1992, a national pact was signed here between the government and armed groups and fighting continued for three years after the signing,” he said.
Mali was shaken by a coup in 2012 that cleared the way for Tuareg separatists to seize towns and cities of the north.
Al Qaeda-linked militants then overpowered the Tuareg, taking control of northern Mali for nearly 10 months until they were ousted in a French-led military offensive.
The country remains deeply divided, with the Tuareg and Arab populations of the north accusing sub-Saharan ethnic groups in the more prosperous south of marginalising them.
Loyalist militias seized the north-eastern town of Menaka from the CMA in April, violating a ceasefire and sparking an increase in violence that left many dead on both sides.
The move threatened to undermine the country’s fragile and long-running peace process, but the pro-government forces later agreed to withdraw.
The Malian government lifted arrest warrants issued in 2013 against CMA rebels in an attempt to smooth the path to peace.
* Agence France-Presse