- Malian government has reached a ceasefire agreement with ethnic Tuareg rebels to end nearly a year of clashes in the northern dessert, Algerian officials confirmed yesterday.
The deal was a direct resultant of Algerian brokered four days peace talks, held since Friday in the country's capital, Algiers, which brought together Mali government and militia to end hostilities in the region.
According to Algerie Press Services, a number of decisions have been made to halt hostilities between two conflicting parties along with the implementation of ceasefire to be followed up to ensure commitment on both sides.
The rebels, who have been in conflict with government demanding autonomy, want more help for the Tuaregs, an ethnic minority semi-nomadic tribe living in several West African nations as well as in southern Algeria.
Algerian ambassador Abdelkrim Ghrieb said an accord was also reached on issues of prisoners and refugees, fallout from the sporadic conflict that recently reached a new peak.
A ceasefire pact also pushes for both parties to commit themselves to steps such as freeing hostages and prisoners by 15 August to ease tension on the ground in northern Mali.
Mali has been roiled by the conflict between rebels and the government, while at the same time, smugglers also operate in the region and the Islamic insurgents active in Algeria known as al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa have crossed the border.
Mali has also seen a series of attacks on officials including security forces, with the latest attack last week where two police officers were wounded by Tuaregs insurgents at a military base.
Government officials in Mali said that at least 20 Tuaregs had been killed early June in clashes with the army in a single week after fighting erupted in the northwest desert region of Kidal.
The rebels have also waged a series of abductions and held hostage 30 soldiers in March, following a release of 22 hostages, the last of the 40 hostages held since August last year.
In a second phase after 15 August, Mali government and Tuaregs are planning a new round of talks to discuss a partial pull-out of the Malian army in the north and the dismantling of rebel bases there.
The talks will also touch on ways to reintegrate former Tuareg rebels in civil society and tackle problems of the special units, armed units comprised of former Tuareg rebels.
Mali had signed a peace deal with the Tuaregs in July 2006 after the conflict reignited following years of peace in the wake of a 1990s rebellion. However, one faction of the Tuareg group refused to sign the deal, saying it did not do enough to help the Tuaregs.
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