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Tuareg rebels initial Mali peace deal but want changes


Tuareg rebelsMali’s main Tuareg-led rebel alliance initialled a peace agreement with the government Thursday but demanded changes before signing a deal to end decades of conflict in the west African nation.

“Initialling the document and signing a comprehensive agreement are and will remain legally distinct,” alliance official Bilal Ag Cherif said in a statement read out on his behalf in Algiers.

Ag Cherif said the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) alliance would not participate in a signing ceremony in the capital Bamako on Friday which is to be attended by a dozen heads of state.

A second CMA official, Sidi Brahim Oud Sidat, said there would be further negotiations on the alliance’s political and security demands.

“Once these requests are met, we will sign the agreement,” he said.

A source close to the international mediators said earlier this week that two of the CMA’s five groups were expected to sign the deal on Friday, with experts pointing to fissures within the alliance.

Mali was shaken by a coup in 2012 which cleared the way for Tuareg separatists to seize the towns and cities of the vast northern desert with the help of several Islamist groups.

The country has since returned to democracy but remains deeply divided with the Tuareg and Arab populations of the north accusing sub-Saharan ethnic groups in the more prosperous south of marginalising them.

Northern Mali has seen an upsurge in attacks by pro-government militias and various factions of the Tuareg-led rebellion, leaving many dead on both sides.

The government and a coalition of armed groups from the north known as the Platform have already initialled the peace accord, negotiated under the auspices of the UN and Algerian-led mediation over eight months.

But the CMA has said it will not accept a deal without an amendment recognising “Azawad”, the name used by the Tuareg for the northern part of Mali, as a “geographic, political and juridical entity”.

The peace agreement calls for the creation of regional assemblies but not autonomy or federalism, in deference to the concerns of the government about separatism.

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