ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — The United Nations' representative to Mali expressed hope for the latest round of peace talks as they began Monday between the warring factions in the country.
The talks, which first began in Algiers in September, are between Mali's government, separatist rebel groups based in the north and government-allied militias. They come as fighting has re-ignited between the rival groups, and in some cases involving U.N. peacekeepers.
"This meeting represents an historic chance for a lasting peace in Mali," said Mongi Hamdi, the head of the U.N. mission in Mali. "The international community and the parties involved are pushing for the immediate end to hostilities to create positive conditions for the talks."
Hamdi said the recent fighting was a source of "serious worry" for all involved.
In Algiers, Mali's Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop saluted the start of talks over a draft accord between the government and separatists. He admitted that while "this document is not perfect, it is a solid base today and it is the surest base to reach an accord."
In 2012, northern Mali fell under the control of secular Tuareg fighters and then al-Qaida-linked radicals, prompting French military intervention in 2013.
While al-Qaida was driven out, skirmishes soon resumed between government forces and Tuareg separatists until a ceasefire was reached in summer 2014.
U.N. troops are now trying to stabilize the north and have been targeted by extremists and separatists. About two dozen peacekeepers have been killed, making Mali their deadliest mission.
Separatists have accused peacekeepers of siding with government forces and there have been demonstrations against the U.N. forces in northern Mali.
Algeria has mediated several rounds of peace talks between the Malian government and Tuaregs, searching for a political system that could include both.
Algerian Foreign Minister Ramatane Lamamra called on all taking part to make this fifth round of talks a success and warned against "all or nothing" positions.
"In the absence of this agreement, it is terrorism that will continue to win and threaten security in the region," he said.
Ahmed reported from Bamako.