Rebels declare cease-fire in northern Mali
(CNN) : Separatist rebels who captured key northern areas of Mali called a cease-fire starting Thursday, saying on their website that they had achieved their military mission.
The Azawad National Liberation Movement said the rebels had captured enough territory in Mali’s vast Sahara region to put down their guns.
The Tuaregs consider the area, which they call Azawad, as the cradle of their nomadic civilization and launched an insurgency in January to achieve a separate homeland.
The online statement said the MNLA “decides unilaterally to proclaim an end to military operations as of Thursday, April 5 at midnight GMT.”
After a military coup in March that toppled Mali’s government just weeks ahead of scheduled elections, the Tuareg rebels swept through the north with relative ease and wrested control of several strategic cities, including Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu.
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Meanwhile in the capital, Bamako, military leaders who overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure postponed plans Thursday for a national convention aimed at addressing political woes and determining the direction of the country. The reason remained unclear.
Military leaders had planned to invite political parties and civilian representatives to the convention, said Capt. Amadou Sanogo, the junta leader.
Last month’s coup — staged by renegade soldiers over the president’s alleged inability to handle the Tuareg rebellion — plunged Mali into crisis.
The international community, including West African states, the African Union and the United States have called for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule.
The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States have also slapped the military junta with travel and economic restrictions and has frozen its assets.The group imposed a diplomatic and financial embargo, said Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the body’s chairman.”All diplomatic, economic, financial measures and others … will not be lifted until the re-establishment of constitutional order,” Ouattara said.
Sanctions targeted the supporters and relatives of the military junta and all those involved in contributing to the “destabilization” of Mali, the African Union said.
Under the sanctions, five neighboring nations will close their borders to landlocked Mali except for humanitarian purposes and deny the nation access to their ports, freeze its accounts in regional banks and suspend its participation in cultural and sporting events.
The Tuareg rebels, whose ranks swelled after many who had been fighting for Moammar Gadhafi in neighboring Libya returned home, capitalized on the post-coup chaos and gained control of key towns like Timbuktu, effectively splitting the nation in two.
Before the coup and the fighting in the north, Mali was hailed as a shining example of African stability with two decades of democratic governance.
Mali now has no access to the sea, is heavily dependent on foreign aid and faces a future of uncertainty.