Mali and Tuareg rebels sign accord

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The nation of Mali, which lost half its territory last year to rebels, signed an accord Tuesday with Tuareg separatists who still control the country’s northernmost province, paving the way for the Malian military to return to the areas still under rebel rule.

The agreement, which was signed in front of reporters by two Tuareg representatives and an emissary of the Malian government in Ouagadougou, where the two sides have been holding talks, calls for a cease-fire to go into effect immediately.

A draft of the agreement seen by The Associated Press also states that a commission will be set-up which will include four members each from the rebel group and from the Malian security forces, and another six members from the international actors currently engaged in resolving the Malian conflict. The commission will have 10 days from the signing of the accord to decide on how the rebels will be disarmed and how they will be transferred to a site where they can be garrisoned, and the steps that will be taken to allow Mali’s military to return to the occupied area.

Mali’s security forces will return to Kidal, the capital of the occupied province in northern Mali, which has become a de facto Tuareg state, before the July 28 presidential election, according to the agreement. The deployment will start with a unit of gendarmes and police, following by a progressive deployment of Mali’s military, in close collaboration with African and United Nations forces.

Malian politician Tiebile Drame, the representative of the Malian government at the talks, said that they have overcome their greatest differences.

“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,” he said.

According to Drame, the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, had agreed that Mali would exercise its sovereignty “over every centimeter of its territory” and that the Malian military will be allowed to return to Kidal.

Moussa Ag Attaher, a spokesman for the NMLA said that the Tuareg separatists are on board: “The NMLA and the High Council for the Azawad have given everything for peace and so we accept this accord.”

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