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Mali Tuareg Leaders Meet Over Stalled Peace Plan


Two Mali Tuareg leaders are to meet Monday in Algiers in an effort to revive a peace process between rebels and the Malian government. Tuareg, nomadic Berbers, have been fighting the government, they say for more aid and development projects in their region in the country's north. Kari Barber has more from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Tuareg rebel leaders Iyad Ag Ghaly and Ibrahim Ag Bahanga are expected to discuss a relaunch of a peace process with the government.

A peace deal was broken in August when Bahanga kidnapped about 40 people and launched attacks against Mali's army. While most have since been released, some are still being held captive. Rebel leader Ghaly had helped to broker the ceasefire Bahanga broke and has since mediated between Bahanga and the government.

Malian journalist Amadou Maiga has been following the Tuareg rebellion and he says Bahanga may be losing the backing of the people.

"Some people do not know because for these people this Bahanga did too much," said Maiga. "People are very angry against him."

Maiga says this could interfere with the success of the talks.

The Malian government has accused Bahanga of using the rebellion as a guise to get more control over the region in order to run an illegal drug trade. Bahanga denies this.

British Tuareg researcher Jeremy Keenan says while Bahanga's influence may be in question, he could still play an important role in bringing an end to the strife.

"Although he is held in high respect as a traditional leader, politically there is this question mark about his involvement about outside parties," he said. "So he rather bridges this sort of gap."

Keenan says there are also concerns about the talks being held in Algeria, Mali's neighbor to the north, who has often sought greater influence in the region.

"They recognize its presence in the region, they recognize that it may be able to bring things to bear - it has influence," added Keenan. "But I do not think trust is in great abundance on either side at the moment."

Keenan says outside pressures from countries seeking to extend their sphere of influence as well as United States' anti-terrorism efforts in the country may be exacerbating the rebellion.

But he says he is optimistic the talks could deliver peace for at least a period of time.

"All parties want to get a settlement in Mali, so I would be surprised if these talks do not lead to at least to a temporary sort of deal that could become more permanent if it is not upset again by external parties," he said.

Keenan says quelling unrest in Mali should be easier than containing neighboring Niger's larger and more volatile Tuareg rebel movement which has staged an increasing number of attacks in recent months. Niger's Tuareg also complain of economic neglect on the part of their government.