Rival armed groups in northern Mali agreed to the return of a state governor to Kidal for the first time in years as part of a ceasefire deal signed after weeks of fighting.
The return of Governor Sidi Mohamed Ag Ichrach follows a truce among fighters drawn mostly from competing Tuareg clans involved in remote desert battles that have killed dozens since July.
The clashes have undermined a Western-backed peace process in the country and complicated efforts to counter al Qaeda-linked militants.
Radhia Achouri, spokeswoman for the United Nations mission in Mali, said the truce was agreed between CMA, an alliance of separatist groups seeking autonomy for a region of northern Mali, and Platform, their pro-government opponents.
The deal signed in Bamako amid jokes and handshakes envisages a ceasefire for an initial period of 15 days. The UN and Mali’s government helped broker it.
“We hope that his (Ag Ichrach’s) presence in Kidal will contribute to advancing implementation of the peace agreement and addressing the populations’ needs,” Achouri said.
The latest surge in fighting around Kidal, which lies on a nexus of desert trade routes, marks the resumption of decades-old score-settling between semi-nomadic clans that has continued despite a 2015 peace agreement.
Mediators at the time said the peace accord would allow Malian and French troops to counter an Islamist insurgency led by jihadists who briefly seized north Mali in 2012. Instead, attacks on Western and Malian targets have increased.
Interim state authorities have returned to other north Malian towns as part of the implementation of the deal. But progress had stalled over Kidal, prized by both sides and which has changed hands several times.
There has been no permanent state presence in Kidal since 2014, when the governor fled after a visiting government delegation came under fire from CMA fighters.
International Committee of the Red Cross field co-ordinator Assem Elessawy told Reuters thousands of people had been displaced by fighting that resumed in July, and has since led to the CMA seizing back significant territory.
Forty people injured in the battles have been treated in hospitals in Gao and Kidal, Elessawy added.
Senior CMA official Attaye Ag Mohamed told Reuters the group still held dozens of Platform prisoners but had released nine child soldiers.
Platform could not be reached for comment.