Mali's three main Tuareg separatist groups have signed a ceasefire with the government - a "first step" towards political negotiations, a rebel leader told RFI on Saturday.
After four and a half hours of negotiations the three armed groups - National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUC) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) - signed the deal, negotiated with Mauritanian President and African Union chairman Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Interior Minister Sada Samake signed on behalf of the government in Bamako later.
"The deal comes into effect with the signature of all parties," Abdel Aziz said on Malian television.
The parties have agreed to:
Release prisoners as soon as possible;
Help UN humanitarian efforts and respect human rights;
Set up an international commission of inquiry to examine the country's recent conflict;
Cease hostilities immediately, accepting the terms of a previous agreement and restarting negotiations at once.
The rebels reportedly rejected a demand by Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita that both sides should withdraw to the positions they held before the latest eruption of violence, meaning that they still have fighters in the important northern town of Kidal, as well as Ménaka and Ansongo.
"This is not a political agreement but a first step to go to negotiations," MNLA negotiator Mohammed Ag Najim told RFI.
Boubacar Keita praised the work of his Mauritanian counterpart in securing the deal.
"All day he negotiated. He convinced our brothers [...] that there is no alternative to peace and the negotiating table," he said.
France sent troops to Mali in January 2013 after and alliance of armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists took control of the north.
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