After almost six decades of conflict between Tuareg rebels and the government of Mali, a peace deal paves the way for resolution of decades old conflicts and stabilization of the west African nation.
The peace deal also clears the way for national elections to be held in July.
The Mali government and Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) representatives reached the deal after almost two weeks of negotiations brokered by Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore in the Burkina capital, Ouagadougou.
Tuesday’s deal, mediated between Mali and Tuaregs by representatives from the EU, UN, and Burkina Faso is being hailed as the crucial first step in unifying the divided West African nation.
According to Mali’s lead negotiator Tiébilé Dramé, the two sides had overcome their greatest differences. He said:
"I think we can say that the biggest task is finished. We have agreed on the essentials.
There is an international consensus as well as a Malian consensus on the fundamental questions, which include the integrity of our territory, national unity, and the secular and republican nature of our state.''
Moussa Ag Attaher, a spokesperson for the MNLA confirmed support for the new deal, saying:
"The MNLA and the High Council for the Azawad have given everything for peace and so we accept this accord."
The Tuareg struggle for autonomy began because of their perceived marginalisation by the government ever since Mali gained independence from France in 1960.
Mali descended into chaos in 2102 when army officers toppled the elected government in capital Bamako.
The nomadic Tuaregs—who consider northern Mali as their hereditary homeland—capitalized on the ensuing chaos and fought alongside the Islamist rebel groups to drive out the Malian army.
France intervened to flush out the Islamic radicals from three major towns in the north. While the Malian army returned to Timbuktu and Gao, they did not return to Kidal, a Tuareg stronghold.
In the interim period the Tuaregs quickly established a de-facto Tuareg state with Kidal as its capital – and started issuing documents from the “State of Azawad,” Apparently, this happened because the French allowed the NMLA to re-enter Kidal and establish a shadow administration.
The Tuaregs still control the country's northernmost province with Kidal as its capital. The deal paves the way for the Malian military to return to the occupied Tuareg areas.
While the UN, the European Union and France have praised the deal as “historic,” there are a number of stumbling blocks that stand in the way for an actual resolution of the conflict.
Apparently, the agreement is meant to allow a presidential election next month in all areas under Mali, including the Tuareg-controlled Kidal. But the Tuaregs still insist on keeping their weapons while they are being garrisoned.
The disarmament of Tuareg rebels will be discussed after Mali elects a new president—this indicates that the broader-level issues underlying the rebels’ grievances have not been resolved.
In short, the Tuaregs have committed to peace; they aren't laying down their weapons yet and questions remain regarding how the accord will be implemented.
Sources:Afrique Jet / The Times of India