Pro-government fighters withdrew from a flashpoint town in northern Mali on Friday, removing a key obstacle to a long-delayed UN-backed peace deal due to be signed this weekend. “We have handed over control of the town to MINUSMA and the Malian army and we have left,” said Fahad Ag Al Mahamoud, secretary general of a pro-Bamako armed group GATIA, part of a broader coalition called Platform. Aljazeera reports:
The Malian army and sources from the UN peacekeeping force (MINUSMA) confirmed their departure on Friday. One MINUSMA source said that a convoy of 60 vehicles had left the town. Mostly Tuareg separatists rebels, who have refused to sign past versions of the deal, said they would not agree unless rival groups loyal to the Malian government left Menaka.
The UN special envoy for the Mali mission said the departure from Menaka was a clear and reassuring sign that the peace process was on track. “MINUSMA praises the courageous and responsible decision made by Platform showing their commitment to advancing the peace process for the benefit of all Malians,” said Mongi Hamdi.
Residents in the northern town of Kidal said that leaders from a Tuareg-led coalition of armed groups known as Coordination of Azawad Mouvements (CMA) were preparing to depart for the Bamako signing ceremony.