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Mali government, rebels urge progress on implementing peace deal

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Mali called for the swift implementation of a peace agreement with Tuareg-led rebels during talks on Monday seen as vital for preventing a resurgence of Islamist militant attacks in the vast West African nation.

The two sides signed the United Nations-backed deal last year but the Tuareg-led coalition has complained that it falls short of their demands for their northern region, which they call Azawad.

Political analysts say confidence has steadily eroded between the government and the rebels, slowing peace initiatives on the ground. The government and the rebel alliance - Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) - have both accused each other of stalling on implementation.

“We need to speed this up, to make this agreement real on the ground. We need a pragmatic approach to the difficulties,” Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said before the closed-door talks in Algiers.

“Everyone is impatient for this to move on.”

Rebel leader Bilal Ag Cherif also sounded a note of urgency, calling for progress on security arrangements, including local patrols and a role for rebel fighters, that are part of the deal.

“There are many things that are not yet achieved, we must be ready for the next stage,” he said.

Tuaregs have risen up four times since Mali’s independence from France in 1960. Most recently, they formed an alliance with Islamist militants in 2012 to seize the desert north.

A French-led military intervention scattered the insurgents, although attacks continue. Western powers now worry that any further stalling of the Mali peace accord will allow militants to regain ground.

Armed men attacked a food convoy in northern Mali last Friday and four attackers and two soldiers were killed. Further south, armed men attacked a village in the more central region of Mopti, killing at least one person.

Militants based in the desert north killed 20 people in an attack on a luxury hotel in the capital Bamako on Nov. 20, 2015, and also kidnapped a Swiss citizen from a house in Timbuktu at the beginning of the year.

Reporting by Patrick Markey; Editing by Gareth Jones