A ceasefire agreed between the Government and three rebel groups in restive northern Mali appears to be holding, the United Nations reported today, warning however that recent deadly violence in the flashpoint city of Kidal has displaced some 4,000 people who now desperately need food, water and other necessities.
According to a UN spokesperson in New York, the truce was signed last Friday between the Malian authorities and groups involved in fighting in Kidal - the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) - after a mediation led by the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Mali, Albert Koenders, and the President of Mauritania and current chairman of the African Union, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
"By this agreement, the signing parties accepted to return to the Preliminary Agreement of Ouagadougou and to start negotiations as soon as possible," Stéphane Dujarric, told reporters, adding that the ceasefire also includes important components such as the liberation of prisoners, the facilitation of humanitarian access and the launch of an international commission of inquiry on the incidents in Kidal.
Clashes erupted between Tuareg fighters and Government forces in Kidal over the weekend of 17 to 18 May amid demonstrations during a visit to the northern town by Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara. Dozens were killed in the fighting and subsequent skirmishes last week, threatening to erode the gains the Government made in the two years since an uprising in Mali's long-troubled northern region sparked a coup in the capital, Bamako.
Meanwhile, on the humanitarian front, the United Nations and its partner agencies report that they have started redeploying their staff and aid supplies to northern Mali. Kidal airport has now reopened, with nine UN world Food Programme (WFP) trucks carrying 194 tons of food also on their way.
Jens Laerke, for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters in Geneva that last week's clashes in Kidal, had displaced some 4,000 people in the region. About 1,000 of the displaced had been registered in the nearby town of Gao, where they were staying in host families.
According to OCHA, David Gressly, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Mali, has said the ceasefire between the separatist and the Malian authorities would pave the way for more humanitarian workers to return to Kidal. Since April, a rapidly worsening security situation has prevented UN agencies from being physically present in the town, but agencies continued to carry out their programs through non-governmental organization (NGO) partners and local organizations.
Mr. Laerke said UN agencies are planning to send more humanitarian relief to the northern region, where there was need of food and first aid equipment, access to water and proper sanitation.
"In recent days, some displaced people have been able to return to Kidal from the farmlands around the town where they had gone into hiding," he said, adding that humanitarians on the ground are focusing on carrying out assessments on their needs and urgently re-establishing access to clean water, while providing support to health facilities in Kidal and Gao.