Mali has released 23 prisoners of war affiliated with a movement of Tuareg rebels who announced last week they were pulling out of a peace accord, officials said.

Mali's Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Bathily on Wednesday described the move as a "sign of appeasement" directed towards rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (NMLA).

"With the aim of bringing peace, we have released these prisoners," Bathily said at a ceremony in the capital, Bamako.  "They will not be pursued for crimes against humanity or war crimes."

The government had already freed 32 prisoners under the truce accord, which was signed in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso.

The NMLA was among the rebel groups that took control of northern Mali following a March 2012 military coup.

The subsequent rise of Islamic groups in the region prompted the French to launch a military assault in January.

The June peace accord paved the way for July presidential elections. But the NMLA announced last month it was pulling out because the new government had failed to honor its commitments.

Mohamed Ag Intallah, the Tuareg clan chieftain of Kidal who attended the ceremony, called on the new government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to do more to honour its commitments under the Ouagadougou accord.

"This is a big step but much remains to be done because the most important prisoners are not the ones here," he said. "I am waiting for the freeing of those people."

Source: Agencies