Rebels in north Mali have signed a peace deal with the government to hold presidential elections on July 28 and pave the way for billions of dollars of western aid to rebuild the war-torn west African nation.
The agreement was signed in Burkina Faso on Tuesday night after months of wrangling between the Malian government and the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
The deal envisages a two-stage process beginning with an immediate ceasefire to allow for the elections, followed by a peace agreement to be negotiated between the newly-elected government and the rebels. Prior to the elections, the rebels should withdraw to U.N. monitored garrisons, even as the Malian Army and civil administration, aided by French and U.N. troops, re-enter the town of Kidal.
In January, France deployed troops in its former colony after a coalition of secessionist forces, including the MNLA, threatened to overrun Bamako, the Malian capital. While the intervention succeeded in driving the rebels from many strongholds including the historic city of Timbuktu, rebel fighters continue to hold Kidal, a Tuareg stronghold near the Algerian border.
Since then, international donors have been pushing Mali to hold general elections as a pre-condition to channelling aid for reconstruction.
Tuesday’s agreement, a copy of which was seen by The Hindu, dismisses the possibility of a separate Tuareg nation by reaffirming the territorial integrity of Mali.
“I think we can say that the biggest task is finished. We have agreed on the essentials. There is an international consensus as well as a Malian consensus on the fundamental questions, which include the integrity of our territory, national unity, and the secular and republican nature of our state,” Malian politician and negotiator Tiebile Drame told the Associated Press.
“The two big sticking points in the earlier draft were concerning the timing of the arrival of the Malian army in Kidal and the rebel demand for general amnesty for all fighters,” said an official briefed on the negotiation process. “These demands have not been conceded.”
Under the agreement, the ceasefire will be enforced by a Joint Technical and Security Commission comprising four representatives each from the Malian defence forces and the rebels, one representative from the U.N. mission, one from the French forces, and a representative each from the regional body Ecowas and the African Union.
The two sides have also agreed to set up an international commission of inquiry to examine accusations of war crimes levelled at both.