BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali’s government hopes to clinch a preliminary peace deal with northern Tuareg rebel separatists within eight weeks, the foreign minister said, ahead of talks due to start in Algeria on Monday.
Mali’s northern region - called Azawad by the Tuaregs - has risen up four times in the past 50 years, with various groups fighting for self-rule.
The last uprising in early 2012 prompted a coup in the capital and allowed Islamist groups to seize northern Mali.
Abdoulaye Diop told Malian state radio the first week of the Algiers talks would be devoted to discussions with the various Malian communities, especially those in the northern region.
“We hope that with the help of the mediators, after eight weeks of negotiations, we will have a pre-agreement,” the minister said.
Negotiators hope a deal can draw a line under the decades of hostilities and instability in the desert north of the West African nation.
The three main separatist groups - the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Arab Movement of Azawad, (MMA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), are demanding greater autonomy, however, the government has said any peace deal must respect Mali’s territorial integrity.
Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Alison Williams