Three armed groups from northern Mali have agreed to begin peace talks with the government aimed at resolving long-standing disputes in the country.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) signed the Algiers Declaration on Sunday, demanding “inclusive” talks with the Bamako government.
In the declaration, the groups agreed to engage with the government on the path of “dialogue and negotiations”, in exchange for the release of prisoners and better conditions for the return of refugees.
The region will be in danger if there is no reconciliation
The head of the UN mission in Mali, Albert Gerard Koenders, said warned the entire region was in danger if peace was not restored to the north.
“The region will be in danger if there is no reconciliation,” state television quoted Koenders as saying.
On Friday, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called for the immediate implementation of a cease-fire agreement following the resumption of hostilities.
Ban said the conflict had created “an altered security landscape in the north of Mali with risks for international security”.
He said armed groups operating in the north posed a significant threat to civilians, UN peacekeepers and the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The troubled north fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaeda-linked fighters following a military coup in 2012.
Fighters linked to al-Qaeda gained the upper hand over the Tuaregs in several towns before military intervention by France in January 2013 helped drive the armed fighters away to the desert.
Last year, Tuareg leaders signed a ceasefire agreement with the government requiring the rebels to garrison their fighters prior to disarmament which has yet to happen.
Since 2003, northern Mali has been battling al-Qaeda’s North African branch, which has used the country’s vast deserts north of Kidal to train fighters, amass arms and prepare for war.