A truce between Mali’s army and Tuareg rebels who kidnapped dozens of troops in the north of the country has been extended as the mediator seeks a hostage release, a source close to the talks said today.
Iyad Ag Ghaly, an ex-Tuareg rebel in the west African nation whose group has signed a peace deal with the government, on Saturday began mediating talks with dissidents led by Ibrahim Ag Bahanga aimed at freeing the soldiers.
"Negotiations are continuing," a source close to Ag Ghaly told AFP, reached in the sub-Saharan region from the capital Bamako. "We cannot give details, but the mediator has obtained an extension of the truce."
Ag Ghaly was able to negotiate the truce itself before leaving Bamako for the north on August 30. He then directly contacted the desert raiders who carried out their surprise attacks on August 26 and 27.
Mali’s government believes the group led by Ag Bahanga, who has refused to go along with the peace deal agreed by the majority of former rebels from the Tuareg tribes, is co-operating with Niger-based militants to launch attacks.
Ag Bahanga warned last week, when he captured about 40 soldiers, that such attacks would go on until the Tuareg leader was guaranteed freedom of movement and from pursuit in the northern Kidal region.
Some 30 soldiers remain in the kidnappers’ hands, after nine were freed by the army and three escaped. "Some (of the hostages) have been wounded, but not seriously," the source said.
Ag Ghaly initially went to "the sector where Ibrahim Ag Bahanga is", said the source, without details, then to "Tinzaoutene, near the Algerian border, where the regular army troops are stationed."
He was due today to meet with the rebel group again to try to free the hostages.
The latest uprising in Mali comes in the wake of a serious Tuareg insurgency that erupted last February in neighbouring Niger’s highland Agadez region and is still under way.
The Tuareg tribes are an indigenous Berber people who for centuries lived a nomadic life roaming the southern Sahara desert in landlocked present-day Mali and Niger and their north African neighbours Libya and Algeria.
Since independence, governments have been keen to extend their authority over the Tuaregs, but terms set by militant leaders from such tribes stretch the resources of nations that are among the poorest on the planet.
After an uprising in May 2006, many of Mali’s Tuaregs cut a deal with the government the following July, with Algerian help and in exchange for aid to develop their territory.
In Niger, they want a share in the country’s revenue from uranium.