23 May 2014

Mali: Tuareg Rebels Agree to a Ceasefire

Tuareg rebels in northern Mali have agreed to a ceasefire with the government. This followed deadly clashes earlier in the week, which had threatened to plunge the country back into war.

News agencies quoted sources for the three rebel groups who confirmed on Friday that the agreement had been signed.

"Through this ceasefire, the groups undertake to stop fighting and stay where they are," one source told the AFP news agency via telephone from Kidal, in northern Mali.

A separate source told DPA that the ceasefire included an agreement to resume negotiations with the government, facilitate access for humanitarian convoys as well as a prisoner exchange.

"For us, that means the 40 Malian soldiers captured in Kidal. For them, they must now release more than 300 Tuaregs - many of them non-combatants - who are being held in Bamako," Mohamed Ag Assarid said.

The ceasefire agreement followed several hours of talks involving Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and the United Nations special representative in Mali, Albert Koenders.

Earlier, the rebels claimed to control all of the north-east of Mali, two days after they had taken Kidal, following clashes that broke out during a visit to the northern town by Prime Minister Moussa Mara. An attempt by government troops to retake the town failed, and on Friday, the defense ministry said around 20 soldiers had been killed and 30 others wounded during the fighting.

Mali has been in crisis since early 2012 when Turaeg rebels and Islamist groups took advantage of the chaos caused by an ill-fated coup in the capital, Bamako, to seize the north of the country. The better-equipped Islamists subsequently overpowered the Tuareg rebels, leading to a split between the two.

A French-led military operation launched in early 2013 drove back the Islamists, but sporadic fighting has continued.

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