The Malian government signed a ceasefire deal with three rebel groups in the northern desert on Friday, the African Union’s negotiator announced, after the Tuareg and Arab insurgents captured the flashpoint town of Kidal.
The town is the cradle of Mali’s separatist movement, which wants independence for a vast swath of northern desert it calls “Azawad” and which has launched several rebellions since the 1960s.
“We have just signed an agreement which opens the way for a ceasefire,” Mauritanian President and African Union Chairman Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said on Malian public television after brokering the deal.
“The deal comes into effect with the signature of all parties,” he said, after first the rebel group in Kidal agreed and later Malian Interior Minister Sada Samake signed on behalf of the government in Bamako.
Abdel Aziz cut short a visit to Rwanda to hold the urgent ceasefire talks with the Tuareg rebel groups: 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, 1,500km northeast of Bamako, accompanied by Bert Koenders, the head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita praised the work of his Mauritanian counterpart in securing the deal.
“All day he negotiated. He convinced our brothers... that there is no alternative to peace and the negotiating table,” he said.
About 20 Malian soldiers have been killed and 30 wounded since Wednesday as Tuareg and Arab insurgents captured the flashpoint town of Kidal and the smaller settlement of Menaka, according to the Malian defense ministry.
The rebels said they had seized control of several places, a claim contested by the Malian government, which had announced a unilateral ceasefire on Wednesday.
The army has been pinned back by a coalition of several armed groups, including Tuareg separatists.
Bamako and the rebel group agreed to release prisoners as soon as possible, to facilitate UN humanitarian efforts “and to respect the principles of human rights,” MINUSMA said.
They also agreed to setting up an international commission of enquiry to look into the country’s recent troubles.
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 reporters.
The MNLA ended a nine-month occupation of the governor’s offices in November last year as one of the conditions of a peace deal in June that paved the way for presidential elections.
Yet the process deeply divided the MNLA, whose ultimate goal is the independence of Azawad.
Up until the agreement, the Tuareg group had refused to allow any government soldiers or civil servants into Kidal.
The country descended into crisis in January 2012, when the MNLA launched the latest in a string of Tuareg insurgencies in the north.
A subsequent coup in Bamako led to chaos, and militants linked to al-Qaeda overpowered the Tuareg to seize control of Mali’s northern desert.
A French-led military operation launched in January last year ousted the extremists, but sporadic attacks have continued, and the Tuareg demand for autonomy has not been resolved.
WIDE REOPENING DISCOURAGED: A study from Peking University has suggested that lifting restrictions in the style of the US, UK and others would be catastrophic China would face a “colossal outbreak” on a scale beyond anything any other country has yet seen if it were to reopen in a similar manner to the US. That is a prediction based on statistical modeling by researchers at Beijing’s Peking University. A switch from China’s current COVID-19 elimination strategy to a US-style approach with few restrictions would lead to as many as 637,155 infections per day, according to the study, which was published by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. That would be the largest daily figure reported by any country since the start of the
UNCERTAINTY: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not specify measures NATO might take, but many believe that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project could be canceled The US has said it has evidence that Russia has made plans for a “large scale” attack on Ukraine and said NATO allies are “prepared to impose severe costs” on Moscow if it attempts an invasion. Speaking at a NATO ministers meeting in Latvia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that it was unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a decision to invade, but added: “He’s putting in place the capacity to do so in short order, should he so decide.” “So despite uncertainty about intention and timing, we must prepare for all contingencies while working to see to
NOT ELIGIBLE: Most of those charged over democracy protests were born after the UK handed Hong Kong back to China, figures form Hong Kong Watch showed More than 90 percent of people who have faced protest charges in Hong Kong are too young to access a UK visa scheme dedicated to helping Hong Kongers flee to the UK, say advocates and lawmakers calling for new laws to assist them. The release of the figures on Sunday by advocacy group Hong Kong Watch comes before a British parliamentary debate this week on proposed migration law amendments that would widen the pathway for people with British National Overseas (BNO) status to resettle in the UK. More than 10,000 people were arrested during or after the mass protests that swept Hong
An episode of The Simpsons in which the cartoon family from the US visit Tiananmen Square has been removed from Disney’s streaming channel in Hong Kong at a time when authorities are clamping down on dissent. The missing episode adds to concerns that Chinese-style censorship is becoming the norm in the territory, ensnaring global streaming giants and other major tech companies. Disney+ has made rapid advances since it was launched 18 months ago, reaching more than 116 million worldwide subscribers. The Hong Kong version started streaming earlier this month and eagle-eyed customers soon noticed that an episode of The Simpsons featuring China was