Mali: Govt, rebels talks extended
13 June 2013, 14:36
Bamako - International mediators failed on Wednesday to
convince Mali's president to sign a deal with northern Tuareg rebels that would
pave the way for nationwide polls next month, with the talks now expected to
take several more days.
"We hope to secure a deal within days," Pierre
Buyoya, head of the pan-African force fighting Islamist militants in Mali
(Misma), said on Wednesday.
Burkina Faso's Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole earlier led
the delegation to the Malian capital to ask President Dioncounda Traore
"to lift the final obstacles" to the deal, as the United Nations said
the human rights situation "remains precarious" in the north.
Rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of
Azawad (MNLA) and a smaller group, who want autonomy for the northern Tuareg
homeland they call Azawad, said on Tuesday they were prepared to sign a document
put forward by regional mediator Burkina Faso.
The militants, who control the north-eastern regional
capital of Kidal, were initially reluctant to let government troops step in to
secure the town for a planned July 28 ballot but agreed to the deal after
amendments were made.
"We won't obstruct the process," an official in
the Tuareg delegation told AFP. "When the time comes, we'll sign, no
Bassole and UN, African Union, EU and French diplomats held
six hours of talks with transitional leader Traore, but failed to overcome the
remaining obstacles to a deal being signed.
Next month's planned polls are seen as a key step in Mali's
Misma chief Buyoya said the negotiations would shift to
neighbouring Burkina Faso on Thursday, adding that there was never an
expectation that the deal would be reached in a day.
"All parties have decided to make an effort to achieve
peace," the former Burundian president said, seeking to end a crisis that
saw al-Qaeda-linked groups take over the northern half of the country for nine
months on the back of a March 2012 coup.
Former colonial power France, which sent in troops in
January this year to pin back Islamist militants threatening to advance on the
capital, has supported the interim administration's planned election date.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday on
France 2 television: "I saw the text yesterday, it is a good text, and I
hope if possible it will be signed today."
The transitional government that took over from the junta in
Bamako insists it is also ready to sign the deal but added it wanted a few
A source close to the negotiations said the Malian government
was uneasy about stipulations concerning rebel disarmament and the conditions
for the arrival of the Malian army.
The question of arrest warrants issued against MNLA chiefs
also remains a sticking point.
"We cannot stay silent on all the crimes committed by
the armed groups," a Malian official said.
Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, the leader of the Tuareg contingent
in the talks, said the rebels were willing to sign the agreement to "move
towards peace" and said Tuareg fighters would be "confined to
cantonments with their weapons".
But he said they would only disarm if there were a
post-election agreement with the Malian authorities on giving "special
status" to the northern region.
Meanwhile the United Nations added Mali to its child soldier
list of shame.
The Tuareg rebels, al-Qaeda Islamists and pro-government
militias all used hundreds of child soldiers in Mali, said special UN
representative Leila Zerrougui.
Children make up more than half of Mali's population of 15.8
million and many have been abducted for armed groups and girls forced to become
the wives of combatants, Zerrougui told a press conference in New York.
In Geneva, the UN said on Wednesday that Mali's military has
since March carried out fewer reprisals against ethnic groups suspected of
sympathising with rebels, while adding that "the human rights situation
remains precarious" in the north.
Analysts have questioned the readiness of the authorities to
stage polls by July 28 in the still deeply-divided nation, with 500 000 people
displaced in the more stable south or in neighbouring countries.
But the insistence of France on a July poll and promises of
international aid of $4.1bn, appear to have won hearts and minds, with virtually
all of Mali's warring political factions accepting the deadline.