The Malian government has signed a peace agreement with some northern rebel groups but the main Tuareg armed coalition asked for more time to consult its grassroots.
The deal, hammered out in eight months of tough negotiations in neighbouring Algeria, provides for the transfer of a raft of powers from Bamako to the north, a large swath of territory the rebels refer to as “Azawad”.
The Tuareg rebel alliance that includes the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad said it had asked for a “reasonable delay” for consultations before signing.
Ethnic divisions run deep in the west African nation’s northern desert, the cradle of a Tuareg separatist movement which has spawned several rebellions since the 1960s.
Algeria and the United Nations have led mediation talks in the capital Algiers since last July between ministers and six armed rebel groups amid a surge in violence that threatened to jeopardise the peace process.
The armed organisations which took part are dominated by Tuareg and Arabs, however, and no “jihadist” group was invited to the dialogue.
Fighters linked to al-Qaeda seized control of northern Mali for more than nine months until a French-led military intervention launched in 2013 partly drove them from the region.
The 30-page “Agreement for Peace and reconciliation in Mali from the Algiers Process”, seen by the AFP news agency on Friday, calls for “reconstruction of the country’s national unity” in a manner that “respects its territorial integrity and takes account of its ethnic and cultural diversity”.
The draft deal proposes the creation of powerful elected regional assemblies led by a directly elected president, as well as “greater representation of the northern populations in national institutions”.
From 2018 the government will set up a “mechanism to transfer 30 percent of budget revenues from the state to local authorities… with particular attention to the North”, the document said.