Mali peace deal to be signed Sunday in Algiers: ministry

Amal Belalloufi
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Algerian FM Ramtane Lamamra (R) signs documents overseeing a peace agreement between the Malian government and armed groups, February 19, 2015 in Algiers

Algerian FM Ramtane Lamamra (R) signs documents overseeing a peace agreement between the Malian government and armed groups, February 19, 2015 in Algiers (AFP Photo/Farouk Batiche)

Algiers (AFP) - Mali's government and six militant groups from the country's violence-strewn north are to sign a peace accord in Algiers on Sunday, the Algerian foreign ministry announced.

"The Malian parties will sign a peace accord on Sunday morning under the auspices of Algeria" at a ceremony in the capital, a ministry source said on Saturday.

The ministry invited the media to the signing ceremony at 8:30 am (0730 GMT).

Ethnic divisions run deep in the west African nation's northern desert, the cradle of a Tuareg separatist movement which has spawned several rebellions since the 1960s.

Algeria and the United Nations have led mediation talks in Algiers since last July between ministers and six armed rebel groups amid an uptick in violence that threatened to jeopardise the peace process.

The militant organisations which took part are dominated by Tuareg and Arabs, however, and no jihadist group was invited to the dialogue.

Militants linked to Al-Qaeda seized control of northern Mali for more than nine months until a French-led military intervention of 2013 that partly drove them from the region.

The accord transfers a raft of powers from Bamako to the country's restive north.

The 30-page "Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali from the Algiers Process", seen by AFP on Friday, calls for "reconstruction of the country's national unity" in a manner that "respects its territorial integrity and takes account of its ethnic and cultural diversity".

The draft deal proposes the creation of powerful elected regional assemblies led by a directly elected president, as well as "greater representation of the northern populations in national institutions".

- 'Azawad reality' -

From 2018 the government will set up a "mechanism to transfer 30 percent of budget revenues from the state to local authorities... with particular attention to the North", according to the document.

It envisages an internationally funded Northern Development Zone to raise living standards to the levels enjoyed by the inhabitants of the rest of the country within 10-15 years.

The document refers to "Azawad" -- the local name for a swathe of disputed territory the size of Texas -- as "a socio-cultural reality... shared by different populations of northern Mali".

The draft sets out plans for a national conference bringing all sides together within two years of the signing of a "final and comprehensive peace agreement".

A fifth round of talks started on February 16 aimed at bringing a lasting peace to northern Mali, which remains unstable despite the French-led intervention against Islamist rebels.

Under the draft, militants are to be integrated into the Malian army to be redeployed in the north of the country, with joint patrols to start within two months of the deal being signed.

On the economic front, a development zone will be set up for northern Mali to bring it up to the level of the rest of the country, with a share of the state budget being transferred to the north and revenues from natural resources being shared, within a period of 10 to 15 years.

Finances are to be raised at an international donor conference.

An international commission of inquiry will be tasked under the accord to probe war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other serious violations of human rights committed in the Mali conflict.

Political scientist Rachid Tlemcani, contacted by AFP, said the accord would be "a great victory of Algerian diplomacy" if it succeeds, but remained "sceptical" that it would resolve the root causes of the conflict.