OUAGADOUGOU Mali has reached a deal with Tuareg separatist rebels paving the way for Malian government troops to return to the rebel-held northern town of Kidal ahead of planned elections in July, Mali's chief negotiator said on Tuesday.
"The accord is ready to be signed," Tiebile Drame told Reuters in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou where talks have been taking place for over a week. "I can tell you that the interim accord will be signed this afternoon."
Drame did not provide further details.
Mediators said a week ago that both parties had reached an agreement "in principle". However, Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore, sworn in after a military coup last year, had baulked at a deal imposing conditions on the army's return to Kidal.
Bamako has made clear that it wants its civilian administration and army reinstated in the rebel stronghold before elections scheduled for July 28, which are meant to complete a democratic transition after the March 2012 coup.
The army has threatened to seize the town if no agreement was reached.
Mediators, including delegates from the European Union and the United Nations, have worked round the clock to salvage the ceasefire deal.
A French-led military campaign launched in January ended the 10-month occupation of the northern two-thirds of Mali by al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters.
When the Islamists withdrew, the Tuareg separatists regained control of Kidal, their traditional fiefdom.
There is widespread opposition in Bamako to any deal that would make concessions to the MNLA. The group is blamed by many in southern Mali for opening the door to the Islamists with an uprising last year and its leaders face arrest warrants for alleged crimes committed during their occupation of the north.
(Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Daniel Flynn)