New ceasefire signed by Mali armed groups
Former rebels and pro-government fighters have signed a new ceasefire in northern Mali, they told AFP Thursday, after a summer of intense battles in violation of a 2015 peace deal.
The ceasefire lays out an "immediate halt to hostilities", according to a document signed by the groups on Wednesday in Bamako, and the release of prisoners, following almost a week of talks in the capital.
Pro-government armed groups known as the Platform have lost significant ground to the ex-rebels of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) in the Kidal region, a traditional stronghold of the CMA.
The two sides agreed on a "coordinated return" for the Platform to their base in Takalot, which fell to the CMA, "within a maximum of two weeks" from the signature of the agreement.
A long-delayed plank of the 2015 peace deal, also signed by the government aimed at securing the country's vast north, is the introduction of joint patrols between regular troops and members of the two armed groups.
A new timetable would be agreed for the joint patrols and would be released in due course, according to the ceasefire's wording.
Several such ceasefires have been signed before, and Mali observers were sceptical that the new agreement would hold.
"It's not the first time we have seen a ceasefire signed. Those involved don't act in good faith. Nothing suggests they will respect their commitments this time. The peace process is going at a snail's pace," a foreign diplomat told AFP.
Mali's vast, desolate north fell under the control of the Tuareg-led rebels who allied with jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012.
The Islamists were largely ousted by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013, although they have since launched sporadic attacks on security forces from desert hideouts.
However, rival armed factions and smuggling networks mean the region has struggled for stability since the west African nation gained independence in 1960.