Tags: Mali | conflict | Tuareg | AU

Northern Mali Rebels Agree to Cease-fire

Friday, 23 May 2014 04:53 PM

Armed rebels who humiliated Mali's army in a deadly offensive across the northern desert agreed to a cease-fire on Friday after talks with African Union chairman Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a diplomatic source said.

Abdel Aziz "just obtained a ceasefire here in Kidal from representatives of the three armed groups he was meeting... Through this ceasefire, the groups undertake to stop fighting and stay where they are," the source told Agence France-Presse.

The source could not immediately provide any further details on the negotiations.

Around 20 Malian soldiers have been killed and 30 wounded since Wednesday, as Tuareg and Arab insurgents captured the flash point northern town of Kidal and the smaller settlement of Menaka, according to Mali's defense ministry.

Abdel Aziz cut short a visit to Rwanda to hold urgent cease-fire talks with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUC) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA).

He travelled by private jet and then helicopter to Kidal, 900 miles northeast of the capital, Bamako, accompanied by Bert Koenders, the head the UN mission in Mali.

Defense Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga told AFP: "I wrote an official letter to [the UN mission] today to confirm that the Malian army would respect the cease-fire."

The army has been pinned back since Saturday by a coalition of several armed groups, including Tuareg separatists.

The MNLA says 40 Malian soldiers have been killed and 70 taken prisoner since hostilities began on Saturday, with dozens of vehicles seized along with several tonnes of weapons and ammunition.



The diplomatis source added that  Abdel Aziz, who is also president of Mauritania, secured agreement from the armed groups for a resumption of peace talks and the creation of an international investigation into the unrest that has rocked the north.

The latest fighting began outside the regional governor's office in Kidal on Saturday, coinciding with a trip to the town by Prime Minister Moussa Mara.

Rebels exchanged fire with Malian troops before kidnapping more than 30 civil servants, holding them for 48 hours before letting them go.

The town is the cradle of Mali's Tuareg separatist movement, which wants independence for a vast swathe of northern desert it calls "Azawad" and which has launched several rebellions since the 1960s.

The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees said on Friday that "small but growing numbers of people" were fleeing southwards, with some heading to Niger, Burkina Faso and other neighboring countries.

"Our partner in northern Mali... estimates that Kidal town has so far seen 3,000 people fleeing affected neighbourhoods," a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva.

Meanwhile government officials said strategic errors were to blame for the army's defeat in Kidal.

"There was a big failure in the chain of command ... It is clear that someone in the army took an initiative that was not theirs to take," a senior official told AFP.


© AFP 2020

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Mali, conflict, Tuareg, AU
Friday, 23 May 2014 04:53 PM
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