BAMAKO/DAKAR (Reuters) - Mali announced on Thursday that northern rebels would give preliminary approval to a U.N.-brokered peace proposal next week but a northern Tuareg separatist group said it was not ready to back a deal.
Despite mounting pressure from the government and Algerian-led mediators, the Tuareg-led separatist coalition has so far refused to initial the accord, saying it did not grant enough concessions to the desert region they call Azawad.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s government said in early March it would sign the proposal.
Diplomats hope a deal will lead the separatists to disarm, freeing up Malian and international forces to tackle Islamic militants, who remain a threat despite a 2013 French-led military intervention in the country.
“The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) will initial the proposal on April 15, according to the prime minister,” Malian state television said, referring to the Tuareg-dominated body that brings together five separatist groups. A spokesman for Prime Minister Modibo Keita also confirmed this.
Earlier this month, representatives of the northern movements and mediators returned to the Algerian capital Algiers, where the document was hammered out after months of talks, in an effort to salvage the peace process.
The deal aims to prevent future revolts by Tuareg-led insurgents who have risen up four times since Mali’s independence in 1960.
In the most recent rebellion in 2012, they allied with Islamist militants and briefly seized the desert north.
A letter sent by Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra to the CMA coalition on April 6 and seen by Reuters expressed “satisfaction” with its decision to initial the accord.
Lamamra invited them to a ceremony on 15 April in Algiers alongside the government to initial the agreement and discuss the next steps for a final signature.
But Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, spokesman for the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), said that CMA had since changed its mind. The MNLA is the dominant armed group within the CMA.
“There are not enough assurances, not enough explanations and too many unknown factors following this letter,” he told Reuters. “Once our proposed amendments are taken into account then we can initial this and possibly sign it later.”
Attaye Ag Mohamed, MNLA human rights representative, also dismissed the government’s announcement. “No decision has been taken by the MNLA on whether or not to initial (the document).”
Mali Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop criticized what he said was a small group of “radical, extremist individuals” for blocking progress toward peace in a speech before the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.
“Those who, in spite of everything, chose to stand in the way of peace will give the international community no other choice than to isolate them ... and impose sanctions.”
Additional reporting by Adama Diarra in Bamako, Souleymane Ag Anara in Kidal and David Lewis in Dakar; Editing by Joe Bavier and Crispian Balmer