BAMAKO (Reuters) - Rebels and community leaders in northern Mali have rejected a U.N.-brokered preliminary peace deal after days of discussions in the desert region they call Azawad and are demanding further negotiations.
Drawn up after months of talks in Algeria and signed by the government in Bamako this month, the agreement is aimed at tackling decades of rebellion in the north, where Islamist militants are now fighting thousands of French and U.N. troops.
The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), representing five rebel groups, said the document was a good basis for further discussions but it did not reflect the aspirations of their people and must be improved in the interests of peace.
The CMA and its grassroots supporters want autonomy for the northern region but the proposal only offers more devolved powers, a regional security force and a development plan.
“That is why, (the CMA) is calling for a meeting with the mediation and the international partners involved in order to discuss the process,” the CMA said in a statement sent to journalists and posted on the website of the MNLA, one of the northern Mali rebel groups.
Diplomats hope that a deal will lead to disarmament and reduce the number of armed groups challenging the Malian and international forces, freeing up resources to tackle the Islamist threat.
“All the commissions that worked on the document find that it cannot bring peace,” Moussa Ag Assarid, the CMA’s diplomatic representative to the European Union, told Reuters earlier on Monday.
“The different commissions told the CMA not to sign the document,” he said. “We could follow up with further talks with Bamako to find a document that is acceptable and realistic.”
The CMA leadership would discuss its position with diplomats due to visit Kidal on Tuesday, he said.
The CMA statement on the MNLA website was signed off by Bilal Ag Acherif, the CMA’s top representative.
France, the former colonial power in Mali which sent troops there two years ago to try to oust al Qaeda-linked militants, called for the CMA to sign the deal.
“The Algiers negotiations are finished,” a French foreign ministry source said. “This accord is comprehensive and balanced for peace in Mali,” the source said.
The United Nations has also urged the rebels to sign the proposed deal but protests have broken out in Kidal, the rebel stronghold in northern Mali, against it.
With their ranks and armory swollen by fighters from Libya, the rebels took up arms in 2012.
A coup in Bamako in March 2012 made it easier for them to seize Mali’s vast northern regions but the separatist uprising was hijacked by al Qaeda-linked Islamists who drove them from most of the major towns they jointly occupied.
French forces pushed the Islamists into the desert and mountains on the Algerian border in early 2013 but the militants are striking back with rocket attacks on bases and bombings of convoys.
Reporting and writing by David Lewis; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Louise Ireland