A coalition of civil-society groups in Mali opposed a peace deal between the government and ethnic Touareg rebels because the fighters aren’t yet required under the agreement to disarm.
“We say no to talks with an armed group that refuses to lay down its weapons,” Mamoutou Diabate, head of the Forum of Civil Society Organizations, said by phone from Bamako, the capital, yesterday. “We don’t want this accord.”
Mali, which vies with Tanzania as Africa’s third-biggest gold producer, has been riven with conflict for more than a year after ethnic-Touareg insurgents with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, known by its French acronym MNLA, allied with groups linked to al-Qaeda to gain control of the north. In January, France began airstrikes on the Islamists, while the MNLA retained a stronghold in Kidal.
The preliminary peace deal, signed on June 17 in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso, provides for an immediate cease-fire with the MNLA and enables the Malian army to enter Kidal, 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) north of Bamako.
The fighters won’t disarm until a definite peace accord has been reached following presidential elections scheduled for July 28, according to the deal. Mali’s government said in a statement on June 5 it can’t organize elections if Kidal remained under the control of insurgents.
“We are ready for the consolidation of peace,” Mossa Ag Attaher, an MNLA spokesman, said by phone from Ouagadougou. “Sixty days after the next president has been elected, we will engage in talks to discuss what status is to be given to Kidal,” he said.
Negotiations took more than three weeks as civil society groups and politicians in the south rejected talks with armed rebels whom they hold responsible for a crisis that cut off the arid north of Mali from the government and led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. The MNLA refused to give up Kidal because they said the Malian army may carry out revenge attacks on ethnic Touaregs. The government has denied the allegations.
Most MNLA fighters left Kidal earlier this week and there are no armed men seen in the area, Mahamadou Alassane, a coordinator for the emergency medical aid group Medecins du Monde Belgique, said by phone from the city of Gao today.
Still, the insurgents “are unlikely fully to disarm,” Hannah Waddilove, an analyst at U.K.-based Oxford Analytica, said in an e-mail. The cease-fire “will remain fragile and reversible before elections but will probably substantially hold” and the vote now looks “more likely than not,” she said.
As many as 11,200 United Nations peacekeepers and a special counterterrorist unit are being deployed to Mali as France withdraws. About 7,000 African troops that are already in the country will become part of the UN force.
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