BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's main coalition of Tuareg separatist rebels signed a peace agreement with the government Saturday more than a month after other armed groups did so, though critics said the deal still fails to address the impunity now rampant in the north.
An Associated Press reporter was in the hall when members of the Coordination of Azawad Movements, known by the French acronym CMA, penned the deal. The rebels — who call their homeland in the north Azawad — had refused to take part back in May when others had joined the peace deal following months of talks in Algeria.
The signature was welcomed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said the U.N. stands ready to support the parties in the implementation of the agreement though "the ultimate responsibility for peace lies with Mali and the Malians."
The Tuareg rebellion in Mali's far north has been a source of conflict for decades with the government, and violence has continued even as all sides took part in peace talks.
A 2012 uprising was blamed for prompting mutinous soldiers to overthrow the president of a decade, creating a power vacuum that ultimately lead to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led war against the jihadis.
Sidi Ibrahim Ould Sidatte, who signed the agreement on behalf the CMA, called it "an act of hope" and part of a process toward peace in the north of the country even though it did not address the security issues still destabilizing the area.
"The agreement recognized that the issue of Azawad is a political problem, that a solution had not been found and should be studied further during the period of transition," he said.
Human rights activists said it fails to address the rights of victims of violence and their families.
Corinne Dufka, West Africa associate director for Human Rights Watch, said that is particularly concerning given the deteriorating security situation.
"The agreement is sorely lacking in provisions which address rampant impunity, the very problem which has perpetuated Mali's decades-long cycle of conflict and abuse," she said.
In the northern town of Ansongo, many say they just want to see peace regardless of what deal is signed.
"The problem I run into are the bandits. They take everything I have and then they let us go," said Sidahmar Ag Zeini. "When we go through the forest there are people hiding there who fire on us and take everything we own and run away."
Associated Press writer Maeva Bambuck in Ansongo, Mali contributed to this report.