BAMAKO (Reuters) - Rebels in northern Mali have rejected a U.N.-brokered preliminary peace deal after discussing it for days with protest leaders in the desert region they call Azawad, although they said they remained committed to negotiations.
Drawn up after months of talks in Algeria and signed by the government in Bamako this month, the agreement is aimed at tackling decades of rebellion in the north, where Islamist militants are fighting thousands of French and U.N. troops.
The proposal, put forward after eight months of talks, did not tackle the root causes of the conflict, a statement late on Sunday from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) said.
The CMA and its grassroots supporters want autonomy for the northern region but the proposal only offers more devolved powers, a regional security force and a development plan.
“All the commissions that worked on the document find that it cannot bring peace,” Moussa Ag Assarid, the CMA’s diplomatic representative to the European Union, told Reuters on Monday. “We could follow up with further talks with Bamako to find a document that is acceptable and realistic.”
France, the former colonial power in Mali which sent troops there two years ago to try to oust al Qaeda-linked militants, called for the CMA to sign the deal.
“The Algiers negotiations are finished,” a French foreign ministry source said. “This accord is comprehensive and balanced for peace in Mali,” the source said.
The United Nations has also urged the rebels to sign the proposed deal but protests have broken out in Kidal, the rebel stronghold in northern Mali, against it.
Ag Assarid said the CMA leadership would give diplomats due to visit Kidal on Tuesday a full response to the proposal.
With their ranks and armoury swollen by fighters from Libya, the rebels took up arms in 2012 and are pushing south again from the mountains in northern Mali on the border with Algeria after being driven from the north in 2013 by French forces.
A coup in Bamako in March 2012 had facilitated the seizure of Mali’s vast northern regions but the separatist uprising was hijacked by al Qaeda-linked Islamists who drove them from most of the major towns they jointly occupied.
Despite Algerian mediation and the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission, northern Mali remains deeply unstable as the various factions try to make gains between rounds of talks.