The rebel group that recently seized control of Mali’s three main northern cities, in a manoeuvre that effectively partitioned the country in two, announced a cease-fire on Thursday, saying they had reached their military goal.
Moussa Ag Assarid, a spokesman for the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, said the group was declaring the cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to resume in the north, where shops were looted.
The rebels launched their insurgency in January, saying they wanted to establish an independent Tuareg homeland in the north, known as the Azawad.
Following the coup, the rebels launched a new offensive and succeeded in taking the capitals of the three main northern provinces- Kidal, which fell last Friday; Gao on Saturday and Timbuktu on Sunday.
“The NMLA has reached the end of its military operations for the liberation of the territory of the Azawad,” said Mr. Assarid, speaking by telephone from Paris.
“Since the day before yesterday when our units reached Douentza which we consider to be the frontier of the Azawad,” he said, referring to a town some 600 kilometers (375 miles) from Bamako, “the military offensive is declared over.”
Mr. Assarid’s group is the largest rebel group involved in the offensive, but it is not the only one, and in the three main towns in the north, local officials say they cannot be sure which of the rebel armies has the upper hand. Extremely worrying for Western observers is the presence of an Islamist faction called Ansar Dine, which planted its ominous black flag in all three of the provincial capitals. This week, the group announced it was imposing Sharia law in the ancient city of Timbuktu.
Mr. Assarid, the Tuareg group spokesman, however insisted that his group has the upper hand.