The Mali government has signed a ceasefire deal with Tuareg separatist rebels, paving the way for the government troops and civilian administrators to return to the northern, rebel-held town of Kidal before planned election next month, the Reuters news agency has reported.
The agreement was reached after nearly two weeks of talks mediated by regional powers, the United Nations and the European Union in neighbouring Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou.
Mali’s chief negotiator earlier on Tuesday said a deal had been reached after 10 days of often tense negotiations that would allow the army to enter the town to secure it before the July 28 presidential ballot.
The crisis was initially started by a rebellion by Tuareg separatists from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) who want autonomy for their northern homeland.
However, Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore, sworn in after a military coup last year, had been against a deal imposing conditions on the army’s return to Kidal.
The government in Bamako made it clear that it wanted a civilian administration and an army reinstated in the rebel stronghold before the elections, which are meant to complete a democratic transition after the March 2012 coup.
The army had threatened to seize the town if no agreement was reached.
A French-led military campaign launched in January ended the 10-month occupation of the northern two-thirds of the country by al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
When they withdrew, the Tuareg separatists regained control of the region.