Steps to peace falter in Mali's Timbuktu as militias squabble

Malian soldiers patrol the northern city of Gao in February 2017

Tensions between armed groups who encircled Mali's fabled Timbuktu have prevented the head of a new regional body from taking charge in the former rebel-held city despite government assurances he would start work on Monday.

Boubacar Ould Hamadi, a member of the former rebel alliance that rose up in 2012 in Mali's north, was originally due to have been appointed head of the interim authority of Timbuktu on Friday.

The body is supposed to pave the way for elections to be held when security improves.

"The installation of the interim authorities has been delayed indefinitely," a local official at the governor's office told AFP, adding that the region of Taoudenit was also affected.

A peace deal signed in 2015 has attempted to integrate figures like Hamadi into the rollout of regional bodies that will give separatist strongholds in the north greater autonomy.

His counterparts in other northern cities such as Kidal and Gao took up their posts last week.

But members of one group that makes up the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), the former rebel alliance, on March 3 occupied the building where Hamadi's swearing-in ceremony was due to take place, saying they disagree with the choice of officials appointed.

They have since left the building but tensions spiked on Sunday night when rival militias took control of the city's entry and exit points and shots were heard on Timbuktu's outskirts.

They too, had retreated by Monday morning following a mediation process, but fears of unrest are too strong to allow the ceremony to take place.

Mali's north fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012, who were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013.

But the implementation the peace accord struck has been piecemeal, and insurgents who refused to sign the deal are still active across large parts of the country.

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