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UN Urges Mali Rebels to Sign Northern Peace Proposal

FILE - A fighter with the Tuareg separatist group MNLA stands guard outside the local regional assembly in Kidal, Mali, June 23, 2013.

The United Nations is urging Tuareg-led rebels to sign a proposal on the future of northern Mali, calling it an important step towards peace in the violent region.

The deal, brokered by the world body and already signed by the southern Bamako government, aims to put a stop to decades of Tuareg uprisings.

Following the latest Tuareg revolt in 2012, Islamist militants seized northern Mali, prompting a French-led military intervention. But while the Islamists were driven out, Mali remains deeply divided.

Analysts and diplomats worry that a failure to reach a deal in the Algiers talks, now in their fifth round, could facilitate the return of the al-Qaida-linked militants.

"We encourage the armed groups of the Coordination to initial the agreement," Francois Delattre, France's U.N. envoy and current president of the U.N. Security Council, said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Delattre was referring to the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CPA), a coalition of rebel groups that is seeking greater autonomy for a region covering half of Mali.

Fighting between armed groups, some of which are loyal to the government while others support Azawad, has complicated the negotiations in recent weeks.

The Algiers document proposes more devolved powers for the north, a regional security force and a special development plan but leaves open the question of north Mali's political status.

The CPA says it needs "a reasonable timeframe" in which to consult with residents about the deal, without elaborating. A meeting to discuss the deal is planned in the Tuareg stronghold of Kidal on Tuesday.