A myriad armed groups in northern Mali

A soldier of the High Council for the Unity of Azawad sits in his quarters on July 27, in Kidal, northern Mali (AFP Photo/Kenzo Tribouillard)

Bamako (AFP) - Northern Mali is a vast desert region controlled by a patchwork of armed groups loyal to the government or opposed to it, with differing goals and shifting alliances.

In 2012, the area was dominated by jihadist militants linked to Al-Qaeda who routed Malian army troops with help from Tuareg rebels, before shunting the Tuareg aside.

An international military campaign then routed the Islamists from many areas but the Malian government still does not control much of its northern territory. The Tuareg are a non-Arab, nomadic people.

Here is a quick look at the main groups in northern Mali which are concerned by a landmark peace accord due to be finalised on Saturday.

- Rebels -

- The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA)

The Tuareg-led CMA, which has said it will finally sign a landmark peace accord on Saturday, comprises the main rebel groups. It is led by Bilal Ag Acherif.

It consists of three main groups.

- The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA)

The MNLA is a Tuareg-dominated political and military movement created from the fusion of various rebel units in October 2011. Initially pro-independence, it now seeks greater autonomy for Azawad, the area of northern desert it considers the cradle of the Tuareg.

The MNLA joined the January 2012 offensive against government troops alongside groups close to Al-Qaeda, but was then sidelined. A year later, MNLA units appeared in Kidal, northeastern Mali, following a French-led intervention against the jihadists.

- The High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA)

The HCUA was created in May 2013, mainly by dissident elements of Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), a jihadist group that occupied parts of northern Mali in 2012 before being driven out by international forces. It is based in Kidal and most of its fighters are Tuareg from the Ifoghas tribe.

- Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)

The MAA was created in March 2012 and is comprised mainly of Arab fighters. The movement was weakened in 2013-2014 by a split between factions that allied themselves with the MNLA and HCUA on one hand, and another that decided to back the Malian government.

Other entities that make up the CMA are the Coalition for the People of Azawad (CPA), a Tuareg-dominated movement created in March 2014 by a former MNLA cadre, and self-defence units comprised of settled populations in the region.

- Pro-government groups -

- The Imghad and Allies Tuareg Self-Defence Group (GATIA) was created in August 2014 by Tuareg in the north "to defend the interests of our community, notably against the MNLA", according to its chief, Fahad Ag Almahmoud.

The group, which claims to recognise the territorial integrity of Mali and is not demanding autonomy is the mainstay of pro-governmental factions.

In April, GATIA seized rebel positions in the northern town of Menaka. The CMA retaliated with a series of attacks on the army resulting in numerous deaths on both sides in the most intense fighting since May 2014.

- The Coordination of Movements and Patriotic Resistance Fronts (CM-FPR) groups numerous self-defence organisations, and is mainly made up of members of sub-Saharan African populations.

- A wing of The Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), born of the split with the wing allied to MNLA and HCUA rebels. It comprises numerous former combattants from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of the jihadist groups which controlled the north.