Mali's former rebels agree to join peace conference

Bamako, March 28, 2017 (AFP) -Former rebels in Mali on Tuesday reversed a decision to boycott a national reconciliation conference after receiving assurances from the government, a spokesperson said.

The talks were agreed in a 2015 peace deal signed by Tuareg-led rebels, the government and pro-Bamako militias aimed at ending successive separatist uprisings in Mali's north, most recently in 2012, and to isolate jihadist groups.

On Monday, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), the former rebel alliance, and Mali's opposition groupings announced they would not attend, saying the planned 7-day meeting was not long enough and its aims were too limited.

But CMA representatives were present at the summit on Tuesday, including a spokesman for the ex-rebels, Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane.

Ramadane told AFP the CMA had reversed its decision after the government agreed that "the process would continue" beyond the scheduled conclusion of the summit on April 2.

There was no indication whether the opposition groups would reverse their decision to boycott. The opposition also wants the conference to debate the "current governance" of Mali.

The implementation of the peace accord has been piecemeal and insurgents who refused to sign the deal are still active across large parts of the country.

Mali's north fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda in 2012 who hijacked the rebel uprising, though the Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013.

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