* Deal sees final peace accord signed in Mali
* Tensions between rival groups still high
* Government says no independence, autonomy for rebels
(Adds details on clashes, rebel reaction)
By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS, July 24 Mali's government and
Tuareg-led rebels on Thursday signed an agreement for a roadmap
toward securing a broader peace deal to end decades of uprisings
in the north.
Mali's vast northern desert region - called Azawad by the
Tuareg rebels - has risen up four times in the last 50 years,
with various groups fighting for independence or self-rule.
The roadmap calls for negotiations to work out "questions of
substance" between Aug. 17 and Sept. 11 before a second round in
October to discuss areas such as security, reconciliation and
humanitarian issues. A final peace agreement will be signed in
Mali, but Thursday's accord gives no date for that last step.
"I hope this will lead us to a lasting peace. You have our
guarantee that we will meet our commitments," Mali Foreign
Minister Abdoulaye Diop said, speaking to rebel groups after the
signing ceremony in Algiers.
Alghabass Ag Intalla, a negotiator for the High Council of
the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) called for international committee to
support the next round of negotiations.
"This roadmap will allow us to move to deeper talks," he
said, speaking on behalf of two other rebel groups.
Unrest in the West African country continues even after
troops from its former colonial ruler France intervened last
year to drive back Islamists who had taken advantage of the
latest Tuareg-led rebellion.
Even as negotiations progressed, however, there were signs
of distrust with the main Tuareg separatist group accusing the
Malian army of backing local militias fighting them east of
"The problem is that the army has effectively been fighting
us at the same time as they have been negotiating," a spokesman
for the MNLA group told Reuters.
Mali's government has said it has ruled out any independence
or full autonomy for the northern region, but is open to
negotiations over devolving more authority over local affairs to
Tuareg and Arab rebel groups in the north have long accused
governments in the south of neglecting their region.
Three main rebel groups - the Tuareg MNLA, High Council for
the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)
- have sought to unify their positions. But divisions persist
within the different Tuareg factions as well as between Tuareg
and Arab separatist groups.
The Algiers negotiations began just days after more than 30
people were killed in desert clashes in Mali. The government
said it was fighting among rival rebel groups, but the MNLA said
the dead were from the Malian army and allied militias.
Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected last
year partly for his reputation for taking a firm stand against
previous uprisings. He is under pressure from the more densely
populated south not to give in to rebel demands.
(Additional reporting by Emma Farge; Writing by Patrick Markey;
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, G Crosse)