OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - The three main rebel groups in northern Mali said on Monday they had agreed to merge, creating a united front in an ongoing peace process with the government.
A Tuareg uprising in northern Mali last year plunged the country into chaos, leading to a coup in the capital Bamako and the occupation of the region by Islamist militants.
Since a French-led invasion in January to drive out Islamists, rebel groups have been scattered and reconciliation with them is one of the greatest challenges for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The three groups are: the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA). The merger will take effect in 45 days, they said.
As part of a peace deal signed with the government in Burkina Faso in June, the three groups said they would disarm.
Still, the region remains unstable and last week two French radio journalists were killed by unidentified militants. The secretary general of MNLA, Bilal Ag Acherif, said his group would cooperate with authorities to find the perpetrators.
"We will invest fully in the search for the truth so that this mystery is resolved," he said.
The desert region has produced four rebellions since independence from France in 1960. Its light-skinned Tuareg people say successive black African governments in the capital have excluded them from power.
(Reporting by Mathieu Bonkoungou; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)