Conditions 'ripe' for peace in northern Mali

2014-06-17 07:42


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Algiers - Armed groups from northern Mali are ready to launch peace talks with Bamako to put an end to the instability plaguing the region, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said on Monday.

His comments, at a meeting of foreign ministers from six Sahel countries, came after three armed movements from northern Mali announced in Algiers that they were ready to work for peace with the central government.

"The conditions are increasingly ripe for progress towards peace," Lamamara said, adding that there was a "very clear desire among the senior leaders of the movements in northern Mali to work for peace."

Algeria, which has a long porous border with Mali criss-crossed by jihadist movements, is helping to mediate in the conflict affecting its southern neighbour.

The Algiers meeting has brought together representatives from Mali, Niger, Burkino Faso, Mauritania and Chad, as well as Bert Koenders, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in Mali, and Pierre Buyoya, the African Union's representative for Mali and the Sahel.

It follows talks in the Algerian capital among leaders of ethnic Tuareg and Arab groups who have campaigned since the 1960s for independence for a vast swathe of northern desert they call "Azawad".

Dialogue and willingness

On 9 June, 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) signed the "Algiers Declaration", an accord demanding "inclusive" peace talks.

After flying into Algiers, Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop reiterated the "firm willingness" of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita "to advance the process of peace, dialogue and reconciliation in order to reach a definitive peace accord as soon as possible".

In January 2012, Tuareg fighters began the first rebellion in three years in northern Mali and formed an alliance with Islamists linked to al-Qaeda, who sought to impose a brutal interpretation of Islamic law in towns they controlled.

The Islamists militants gained the upper hand over the Tuaregs in several towns before military intervention by former colonial power France in January 2013, which helped drive the armed extremists to desert hideouts.

The MNLA allied itself with the army to fight Islamist forces.

Representatives of the tribes in northern Mali previously held "exploratory consultations" in Algiers in January, while a ceasefire was signed with the Bamako government on 23 May.

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