Debate over signing of Mali peace deal

A northern Tuareg separatist group denies that any deal has been struck.

Flag of Mali. Picture: Wikimedia Commons.

BAMAKO - Mali announced on Thursday that northern rebels would give preliminary approval to a UN-brokered peace proposal next week but a northern Tuareg separatist group denied that any deal had been struck.

Despite mounting pressure from the government and Algerian-led mediators, the Tuareg-led separatist coalition has so far refused to initial the deal, 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.

"The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) will initial the proposal on 15 April, according to the prime minister," Malian state television said, referring to the Tuareg-dominated body bringing together the various separatist groups.

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.

A representative of the Coalition for the People of Azawad (CPA), one of five groups in the rebel coalition, said his organisation was willing to initial the deal but wanted further negotiations before giving its definitive approval.

"(The mediators) put pressure on us and made us promises. We said we needed these in writing before the final signature," said Attay Ag Abdallah of the CPA.

However, Attaye Ag Mohamed, human rights representative of the more hardline National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), dismissed the government's announcement.

"No decision has been taken by the MNLA on whether or not to initial (the document)," said Ag Mohamed.

A second MNLA official also said that deliberations were ongoing.

The government has previously rejected any renegotiation of the terms of the deal. A spokesman for Prime Minister Modibo Keita said he had no knowledge of an agreement to hold further negotiations.