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Mali signs peace deal but Tuareg rebels ask for more time

Mali has signed a preliminary peace deal to end fighting with northern rebel fighters. But the main Tuareg-led armed coalition, which has demanded autonomy, wants more time for consultations.

The agreement came after

months of negotiations

which began last July in Algeria, involving six armed rebel groups dominated by Tuareg and Arab groups.

"This accord is not intended to immediately resolve all the problems of a deep, multifaceted, cyclical crisis. It is nevertheless a decisive step towards peace and reconciliation," a declaration from the international mediation team, which includes the UN, said.

The deal is an attempt to put a lid on decades of uprisings and instability in northern Mali. Militants linked to al Qaeda controlled of northern Mali for more than nine months, until a

French military intervention

drove them out in January 2013. But there are continuing fears the militants could return.

The agreement transfers a raft of powers from the government in Mali's capital, Bamako, to the country's restive north which rebels refer to as "Azawad."

Azawad is about the size of France and covers more than half of Mali's national territory. The rebels had demanded full autonomy for the region.

The Tuareg rebel alliance, which includes the group "National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad" (MNLA) said it wanted more time to consult its grassroots before signing Sunday's accord.

Some rebels had earlier said the agreement did not fully address their political demands for Azawad.

News agency AFP says the document provides for the transfer, beginning in 2018, of "30 percent of budget revenues from the state to local authorities... with particular attention to the North."

It says militants will be integrated into the Malian army to be redeployed in the north, where an economic development zone will also be set up to bring it in line with the rest of the nation. International investigators, meanwhile, will probe war crimes and human rights violations committed in the Mali conflict.

jr/kms (Reuters, AFP)

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