Mediator: Main rebel group did not sign Mali peace accord

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BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's main separatist Tuareg rebel group did not sign a peace accord that the government and other armed groups agreed to on Friday, dimming prospects of stability in the West African country.

Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra, who represents the mediators, said Mali's government, allied armed groups and two groups under the separatist coalition signed the agreement, but three groups in the coalition, including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, did not.

Mohamed Mahmoud Ag Ousmane, who said he was a member of a group within the separatist coalition, said that there was still time for other groups to sign.

"We hope that the other groups come to sign the peace accord in their own turn," he said.

The Coordination of Azawad Movements, known by its French initials CMA, however, said in a statement that none of its members were represented at the signing in Bamako.

International mediators had hoped that a peace agreement could bring stability to north Mali after several chaotic years. But a growing number of attacks in recent weeks had cast doubts on all groups signing this planned accord. The violence has left more than 40 people dead since April 27, according to government figures.

The United Nations said in a statement that it welcomed the accord, but that mediators should work on provisions that would bring all parties to sign.

Ban called on mediators "to identify those provisions of the agreement that are achievable pending a signature by all parties," the statement said.

The United States welcomed the formal commitment, and urged "all Malian parties to sign the Accord to underscore their concrete commitment to peace," according to a U.S. State Department statement.

Bruce Whitehouse, associate professor of anthropology at Lehigh University and Mali expert, said the accord without the major separatist groups doesn't mean much.

"They are the people who started the last rebellion and the ones before that," he said, adding that there likely wasn't enough support in the fractious separatist demographic.

"I see the status quo with skirmishes going on with the line of control between government-held and rebel-held territory," he said, adding that the U.N. will have a more difficult time policing the sides.

The peace deal came after months of negotiations in Algeria between Mali's government, Tuareg separatist groups and armed groups allied with the government.

All parties had reaffirmed a cease-fire back in February during talks in Algeria. But on April 27, a pro-government armed group took over the Tuareg town of Menaka, sparking the Tuareg rebels and coalition separatists to begin attacks, hitting towns including Goundam, Tenenkou and Lere.

Some factions of traditionally nomadic Tuaregs, wanting greater autonomy for the country's northern region, have risen up against the central government in Mali several times since the country's independence from France in 1960. The most recent uprising opened the door for jihadists to seize half of Mali after government forces scattered in 2012. That prompted a French military intervention in 2013. A peace accord was also signed in Burkina Faso in 2013 that has been repeatedly violated. Another cease-fire was reached in the summer of 2014.

A number of African presidents and diplomats came to Bamako for the peace accord signing, including Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.


Associated Press reporter Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.

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