April 19, 2015 / 3:33 PM / in 3 years

Mediators set May 15 deadline to sign Mali peace deal

BAMAKO (Reuters) - International mediators in the conflict in northern Mali increased pressure on Tuareg-led separatists on Sunday to sign up to a U.N.-brokered peace deal by announcing a signing ceremony for May 15.

Mali’s government, which had already said it would sign the deal, announced 10 days ago that the separatists were also ready to initial the accord this month, but the Tuaregs then denied this and demanded further autonomy for their desert region, which they call Azawad.

The peace deal aims to end a cycle of four Tuareg-led revolts since Mali’s independence from France in 1960. Diplomats also hope it will free up Malian and international forces to tackle Islamist militants in northern Mali.

A statement from the Algerian-led mediators said three days of meetings had taken place in Algiers from Wednesday to discuss the draft deal.

In an apparent effort to address the separatists’ concerns that promises in the agreement remain too vague, mediators said the signing of the deal by international partners - including the United States and France - would ensure that its commitments were fully implemented.

“Mediators will not fail to inform the appropriate international authorities of any attitude or action that jeopardises the peace process underway,” the statement said.

“This is about the stability and prosperity not only of Mali and its people but of all the states and populations of the Sahara and Sahel regions,” it said.

In the most recent rebellion in 2012, Tuareg separatists allied with Islamic militants and briefly seized the desert north until a French-led military operation scattered them.

International frustration with the separatists’ refusal to sign the deal has grown amid concerns that Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s government has little room to offer further concessions.

Diplomats are concerned that any further concessions would embolden Tuaregs in neighboring Niger and Algeria. A U.N. Security Council statement last week evoked the possibility of sanctions against those blocking a deal.

But with young militants in the Tuareg stronghold of Kidal in Mali’s far north also unwilling to compromise - and calling on their leaders not to sign - a solution to the impasse appears remote.

A spokesman for the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), the umbrella movement for the separatists, was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

Mali’s presidency said on its official Twitter account that Keita had also announced the May 15 ceremony during a visit to Ethiopia. A government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Adama Diarra and Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Gareth Jones

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