Separatist groups fighting in northern Mali have delayed signing a UN-brokered peace deal with the government.
The Coordination of the Movement of Azawad (CMA) — a coalition of rebel groups seeking autonomy for northern Mali — have requested "a reasonable delay" in order to present the proposed agreement to their local supporters.
Azawad, a largely desert territory that is roughly the size of Texas, encompasses the cities of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao.
In 2012, the Tuareg rebel group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) wrestled control of the region from the Malian military, uniting briefly with the Islamic militant group Ansar Dine. Later in 2012, Islamist militants — including Ansar Dine and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — recaptured the north from Tuareg rebels, prompting France to intervene. Clashes are still ongoing between pro-government groups and the CMA.
The CMA is comprised of three rebel factions: the MNLA, the MAA (Arab Movement of Azawad), and the HCUA (High Council for Azawad Unity). The alliance wants autonomy for northern Mali — or at least a form of federalism that would allow for self-governance.
According to Malian Foreign Affairs Minister Abdoulaye Diop, the peace deal has been "initialed" by all parties involved, and will be "officially signed" in a few weeks, pending the CMA's approval.
The agreement is the result of five separate negotiation sessions that started in July 2014 and were hosted by neighboring Algeria.
The deal has been widely criticized as a "quick fix" rather than a durable peace plan, but Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Ramtane Lamamra called it "a founding act… and a realistic compass for peace" in Mali. The international mediation team, which includes the UN, said in a statement that the deal is "a decisive step towards peace and reconciliation."
Lamamra, a leader of the mediation team, has downplayed the significance of the delay and denied allegations that it is an attempt by the CMA to exit the peace negotiations. Speaking in Algiers on Sunday, he described the delay as a way for the CMA "to increase [popular] support for the deal."
The three main provisions of the peace agreement call for the election of regional assemblies for the north, the integration northern fighters into the Malian army, and the creation of a "mechanism to transfer 30 percent of budget revenues from the state to local authorities" by 2018.
Rebel spokesman Mohamed Ould Mauoloud Ramadan told the New York Times the deal falls short of the coalition's political aspirations for the Azawad region. "We didn't sign the document today, because we have some hesitations. We need a special status for Azawad," Ramadan reportedly said.
Bilal Ag Acherif, leader of the MNLA, echoed Ramadan's concerns, telling Reuters that, "If the international community really wants to make peace in Mali, it has to deal with the situation seriously. We are in a political conflict."
Protests over the proposal erupted over the weekend in the northern towns of Kidal and Ber, where the CMA's influence runs deep. Demonstrators denounced the agreement, calling it "the masquerade of Algiers."
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