BAMAKO: Malian government negotiators will sit down with separatist militias today, hoping to end the conflicts that continue to rage in the country a year after it returned to democracy.
Riven by ethnic rivalries, a Tuareg rebellion and an Islamist insurgency in its vast desert north, the west African nation has struggled for stability and peace since a military coup in 2012.
The second round of talks in the capital of neighbouring Algeria will bring together various warring factions who signed an interim agreement in June last year to pave the way for nationwide elections.
Since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita came to power negotiations have stalled, however, and northern Mali has seen a spike in violence by Islamist and separatist militants. Skirmishes in May between the Malian army and a coalition of rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) saw at least 50 soldiers lose their lives in the Tuareg region of Kidal.
A ceasefire obtained by Mauritanian leader and African Union (AU) chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has been in place since but the Malian government has expressed alarm at the “concentrations of armed groups” in the desert.
“This time in Algiers, participants will get to the bottom of their problems and, it is to be hoped, come to an agreement,” said former prime minister Modibo Keita, the president’s envoy at the talks.
The talks will be based on a “roadmap” agreed by the different sides in July and overseen by a “college of mediators” including Algeria, the AU and the 15-member regional bloc ECOWAS.
A “college of facilitators” will be made up of delegates from the European Union, France, Niger and Nigeria.
Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara has suggested that the government will make concessions but has set a “red line”, saying that Mali’s territorial integrity and secular status are not up for discussion.