RABAT (Reuters) - Mali and Niger have agreed a comprehensive peace deal with Tuareg rebel groups under which 1,100 fighters have already laid down their arms, said Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who sponsored the accord.
But the official website of the main Tuareg rebel group on Wednesday posted a statement criticising the deal, a sign that divisions among the fighters that have stymied past peace accords may threaten this one as well.
Nomadic Tuaregs launched uprisings in the Sahara in the 1960s and 1990s, and renewed rebellions since early 2007 against the governments of Niger and neighbouring Mali have increased instability in a region where al Qaeda cells also operate.
Al Qaeda’s North African wing has heightened insecurity in the area where international resource firms such as France’s Areva and Canada’s Cameco have operations.
“It is a historical day and momentous hour as our Tuareg brothers in Mali and Niger have decided to make peace and lay down their weapons,” Gaddafi said late on Tuesday.
Gaddafi, chairman of the African Union, was addressing commanders of Tuareg rebel movements and representatives of Mali and Niger governments gathered to endorse the deal at the Libyan oasis town of Sabha.
Gaddafi has brokered similar peace deals in the past two years but splintered Tuareg factions reneged on the pledges, blaming Mali and Niger for failing to respect the accords.
In a sign of possible continued divisions among the Tuareg that may put the new deal at risk, the website of the main rebel group, the MNJ, carried a statement saying it would not adhere to the agreement.
“What happened on Libyan territory is a giant farce,” the it said. “The MNJ will not renounce its fight for the rights of its people.”
Gaddafi, whose remarks were carried by state news agency Jana, said every faction of the Tuareg rebel groups was committed to peace this time and governments in Niger and Mali had sent senior representatives, including army generals, to underscore their willingness to respect the deal.
“For the first time, there will be no single armed rebel left in the mountains of Mali and Niger and all those who used to lead the rebel movements are present alongside me,” he added, naming five top Tuareg rebel chiefs from Mali and Niger.
“At this very moment, there are 1,100 fighters who have laid down their arms in Agades (in Niger). They are listening to us right now and waiting for me to order them to enter Niger in peace. I tell them: ‘Go ahead and enter Niger in peace’.”
The Libyan leader, who in the past helped Tuareg rebels with money and weapons, urged Tuaregs to renounce violence and focus on sustaining peace and stability in Mali and Niger.
Gaddafi wants Africans to resolve conflicts in their own continent to prevent big powers from what he says are attempts to stoke wars to sell more weapons and expand footholds in resource-rich Africa.
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