Malian Tuareg rebels honour Algiers Accord, lay down arms
By Said Jameh for Magharebia in Algiers – 19/02/09
In a positive step towards establishing peace in northern Mali, more than 500 Tuareg rebels laid down their arms in their fight against the Malian government. The brokers of the tentative quieting of violence are encouraged about the prospect of putting an end to the conflict in the Kidal region.
A celebration was held Tuesday (February 17th) in the Kidal airport, where the rebels – affiliated with the May 23, 2006 Democratic Alliance for Change – surrendered in accordance with the 2006 Algiers Accord.
The return of the rebels was part of a long effort led by Algerian Ambassador to Mali Abdelkrim Gheraib, who attended the ceremony. Also present were Kafougouna Koune, Malian Minister of Regional Administration and Local Communities, and official Tuareg spokesperson Ahmed Ag Bibi.
Algerian state television aired pictures Wednesday evening of the Tuareg rebels handing over their weapons to Gheraib in his capacity as mediator.
An Algerian radio correspondent in Kidal who attended the celebration said the operation was greeted with relief on both sides of the conflict. Tuareg rebels and local residents alike sounded their car horns in celebration of peace.
The two disputing parties expressed thanks to Algeria for its central role in bringing the two sides willingly to the negotiating table and establishing peace.
Minister Kafougouna Koune thanked his Algerian counterparts for their sustained efforts in Kidal, including the signing of the Algiers Accord.
The rebel surrender was a positive step for his country, he said in a speech at Tuesday's ceremony, "because the people need to accept the challenge of development rather than going to war".
Tuareg spokesman Ahmed Ag Bibi agreed. "We are convinced by peace," he said. "We've agreed to lay down our arms based on that."
Abdelkrim Gheraib promised to continue with the peace effort until all the provisions of the accord have been implemented.
"This act is an embodiment of the firm will of Algeria and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika... to help the brotherly people of Mali to return to the path of peace, stability and development," he said.
The Algerian diplomat also stressed that dialogue remains "the best means to guarantee peace and stability on a permanent basis".
Remaining steps laid out under the Algiers Accord include the return by families displaced by the conflict to their homes, and the release of prisoners of war detained by each side.
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