AFRICAN Union chairman President Mugabe left for Mali yesterday to witness a peace signing ceremony between President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s government and Tuareg separatist rebels.The President’s delegation comprises Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and other senior Government officials.
The President was seen off at Harare International Airport by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is the Acting President, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda, service chiefs and other senior Government officials.
President Mugabe will attend today’s ceremony in the Malian capital of Bamako in his capacity as AU chief and at the invitation of President Keita who dispatched a special envoy to Harare last Saturday.
Minister Mumbengegwi said in an interview that the AU played a key role in brokering the ceasefire between the Malian government and the rebels.
“There was a rebellion by the Tuaregs in the north,” he said. “It happened while I was there and I was held up for some time.
“The government of Mali and the rebels have now reached an agreement that has been initiated by the parties. The AU set up a peacekeeping force and also asked the United Nations to assist.
“President Mugabe will be part of this process, which has seen peace return to Mali.”
The accord has brought high expectations of lasting peace in the Sahel region, which has endured years of armed conflict.
The Sahel covers parts of Senegal, Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Niger, South Sudan and Eritrea.
Trouble was stirred in the West African country when the traditionally nomadic Tuaregs demanded greater autonomy in the north. In 2012, jihadists then took advantage of an uprising and seized half of Mali for more than nine months, prompting a French military intervention the following year. Though a peace agreement was signed in Burkina Faso in 2013, the country has not known real peace as the accord has been repeatedly violated.
The latest pact was cobbled together in Algeria after months of negotiations involving government, Tuareg separatist elements and government-aligned groups.
Jihadist groups were not invited to the talks.
In March 2015, the Malian government signed the draft accord with some groups, but the main Tuareg rebel alliance requested time to consult its grassroots.
The agreement advocates “reconstruction of the country’s national unity” in a way that “respects its territorial integrity and takes into account its ethnic and cultural diversity”.
It also proposes creating elected regional assemblies led by a directly elected president and “greater representation of the northern populations in national institutions”.
On Wednesday, renewed fighting broke out between a coalition of separatist rebels and pro-government militia in the north, leaving four dead in Ikadewan village.
Rebel coalition spokesperson Mossa Ag Attaher was quoted as advocating further attacks if militia fighters did not leave.
Mali’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Abdoulaye Diop, told journalists in Harare on Saturday that the “majority of Malians are keen to turn over a new page” despite uprisings by Tuareg rebel elements over the past few weeks.