Mali junta ends 2015 peace deal with separatist rebels

By Tiemoko Diallo

BAMAKO (Reuters) -Mali's junta ended a 2015 peace deal with Tuareg separatist rebels on Thursday in a move that could further destabilise the conflict-torn West African nation.

Tensions between the central authorities and the northern separatists have resurfaced since the military consolidated power in two coups in 2020 and 2021, teamed up with Russian military contractor Wagner Group, and kicked out French forces and U.N. peacekeepers.

In a statement read on state television, the military authorities said it was no longer possible to continue with the agreement due to other signatories not sticking to their commitments and "hostile acts" by chief mediator Algeria.

As a result, it said the so-called Algiers Accord, brokered by the United Nations, was no longer workable.

The government "announces its end with immediate effect," it said of the agreement.

The CMA, an alliance of rebel groups formed by Mali's semi-nomadic Tuareg people, said it was not surprised by the decision.

"We have been expecting it since they brought in Wagner, chased out MINUSMA (the U.N. peacekeeping group) and started hostilities by attacking our positions on the ground," said CMA spokesperson Elmaouloud Ramadane.

"We knew that the aim was to terminate the agreement," he said by phone.

Mali, on the Sahara Desert's southern fringe, has been plagued by violence since 2012, when Islamist militants hijacked an uprising by the Tuareg groups who complained of government neglect and sought autonomy for the desert region they call Azawad.

The Tuaregs signed the peace accord with the Bamako government in 2015, but the militant groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have killed thousands of civilians in insurgencies that have since spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The Tuareg peace agreement had recently come under increasing strain. Fighting between the two sides picked up again since last August as they jostle for position during the gradual withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers.

In early January, the U.N. Security Council warned of the importance of sticking with the 2015 peace deal and called for all parties to resume dialogue.

Any escalation with the separatists would pile extra pressure on the Malian army, which is already struggling in the fight against Islamist groups with violence worse since the military takeover.

(Additional reporting by Bate FelixWriting by Alessandra PrenticeEditing by Sandra Maler and Bill Berkrot)