Mali ethnic militia group says it will lay down its arms

November 19, 2016 9:11 AM EST

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BAMAKO (Reuters) - A militia in central Mali that represents ethnic Peuhls said on Saturday it would lay down its arms in a boost for government attempts to bring peace to the country.

The National Alliance to Safeguard the Peuhl Identity and Restore Justice was one of three groups that claimed an attack on an army base in central Mali in July in which 17 soldiers were killed. The other two groups were Islamist.

The alliance was founded in June 2015. It aims to defend ethnic Peuhl civilians from atrocities and does not agree with Islamist militant groups that operate in northern Mali or with the separatist agenda of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), which is also in the north.

Many ethnic Peuhl, or Fulani, people live in the region of Mopti and rear cattle, practicing a pastoralist or nomadic lifestyle.

"Long discussions with our brothers in the CMA's armed movement have forced our hand to rejoin the (peace) process. It was never a question for our movement to oppose the territorial integrity of Mali nor to make war against Mali," said Oumar Aldiana, leader of the group, in an interview.

"For the moment, the alliance ... has laid down its arms and will sign up to the peace process," Aldiana said.

Journalist and writer Serge Daniel said he believed the declaration was credible and the alliance had effectively been forced into the decision because of an internal split.

Its vice-president said he was renouncing violence and its president Aldjana was left with little alternative but to join him, Daniel said.

Islamist groups such as Ansar Dine have stepped up an insurgency in Mali this year, carrying out more than 60 attacks on United Nations and other targets since May and spreading south into areas previously deemed safe.

Islamist groups hijacked a separatist Tuareg rebellion in 2012 to seize major towns in Mali's vast desert north and declare sharia, or Islamic law.

Forces from former colonial power France drove them back a year later, but they have kept bases in remote desert locations.

(Reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Dale Hudson)



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