Tuareg rebels and Malian government officials meet today in Algiers to try to agree on the terms for a lasting peace in northern Mali. Talks will focus on security and politics, including the question of how to govern the huge territory.
This week armed groups from northern Mali and government representatives return to the Algerian capital where they will engage in talks aimed at finding a solution to the country’s nearly three-year-old crisis.
In July, the parties signed a roadmap that would pave the way for talks on a wide range of political and security issues.
Independence for the north is no longer on the table as Tuareg rebel groups seek autonomy, rather than a breakaway state.
However, it is unclear what the autonomy would mean, both in terms of Bamako’s role and how communities that are split along ethnic and tribal lines would govern the vast and sparsely populated territory.
Rebels see decentralization, such as an outsourcing of government functions to local representatives under Bamako’s watch, as a solution that has been tried and failed.
At this point, it was absolutely essential to reach an agreement, said David Gressly, the humanitarian coordinator with MINUSMA, the United Nations mission to Mali.
“Without it there will be no stabilization. There will probably be a deterioration of the security situation and that is not in the interest of any of the parties that are at these talks,” he said.
Mali has been unstable since Tuareg fighters launched a new insurgency at the start of 2012 -- an event that triggered a coup in Bamako, a takeover of the north by Islamist militants, and the intervention of French and African forces in early 2013.
Armed groups, some of them with links to drug trafficking and terrorism, still fight for territory in the north, threatening not only Mali but also neighboring Algeria and Niger.
Hundreds of thousands of Malian refugees remain in camps in Mauritania and Burkina Faso. In addition, Malians are becoming increasingly fed up with France’s military operation "Barkhane," a region-wide counterterrorism campaign.
Gressly says both the government and the rebels may be ready to work out their issues.
“Hopefully we’ll make a definitive difference because that is what everyone says they wants, a definitive agreement for the north of Mali," he said.
An agreement, if reached and implemented, would end 50 years of armed conflict between the Bamako government and various Tuareg separatist movements.