Mali’s Tuareg-led rebel alliance prepared weekend to sign a landmark deal to end years of unrest in a nation riven by ethnic divisions and in the grip of a jihadist insurgency. The Algiers Accord aims to bring stability to the country’s vast northern desert, cradle of several Tuareg uprisings since the 1960s and a sanctuary for Islamist 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 rebel groups, had been holding out until amendments were agreed two weeks ago. 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 a joint op-ed in French daily Le Monde published on Friday. “The political party leaders also have an important role to play, as well as civil society, including women and youth.
In a word, reconciliation is the business of all Malians,” they added. Ramtane Lamamra, the foreign minister of Algeria, which has been leading international efforts to mediate the peace talks, is expected in the Malian capital to sign the deal, along with scores of rebels. The peace accord, hammered out over months under the auspices of the UN, calls for the creation of elected regional assemblies but stop 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 finally 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. “It is a necessary and highly anticipated step it will help to clarify the situation on the ground. Violence has increased in recent months,” said Bamakobased political commentator Souleymane Drabo. “The situation is untenable for everyone — for the people, for the United Nations and government forces.” But 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, an expanse of desert the size of Texas. 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.