Tuareg-led rebels from north Mali said Thursday that they were meeting with Algerian mediators in Algiers to discuss the terms of a preliminary peace deal they rejected last month.
The proposal, forged over eight months of talks, aimed to tackle decades of rebellion in Mali's north, where Islamist militants are now fighting thousands of French and U.N. troops.
It was signed by the Bamako government in early March but, after consulting with their supporters, rebels said it did not go far enough toward granting autonomy for a desert region they call Azawad.
Tuareg sources familiar with the discussions said Algeria's government initiated this week's talks, which were aimed at finding an acceptable version of the original proposal.
But Attay Ag Abdallah, an official at CPA, one of five groups in the rebel coalition, said Thursday that Algeria had so far rejected rebels' request to add an amendment to the agreement with additional demands.
A Bamako-based diplomat said Algiers was applying pressure on the rebel coalition to sign.
The U.N. special envoy for the Mali mission expressed optimism earlier this week that the CPA would eventually sign the agreement.
"I am optimistic that they will sign in the end because frankly there are no other real alternatives to engaging in this peace process," said Mongi Hamdi.
Unless mediators break the current impasse in talks, diplomats say, the question of north Mali's political status could remain open indefinitely and could be exploited by Islamist militants active in the region.