Mali president to examine deal with rebels on vote

Mediators in the Mali conflict arrived in Bamako on Wednesday to seek President Dioncounda Traore's approval of a deal with northern Tuareg rebels that would pave the way for nationwide polls next month.

Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole flew into Bamako at the head of a delegation to ask Traore "to lift the final obstacles" to the deal, as the United Nations said in Geneva the "human rights situation remains precarious" in the north.

UN, African Union, EU and French diplomats accompanied Bassole on the journey from the talks' venue in Ouagadougou, capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, where a delegation member said they would hold discussions with Traore "to remove the last stumbling blocks".

Tuareg rebels who control the key northeastern town of Kidal had been reluctant to let government troops step in to secure the town for a planned July 28 presidential ballot, but said Tuesday they were prepared to sign a deal after a few amendments were made.

A source close to the government, which also wants to fine-tune the deal, said it could be concluded Wednesday evening or Thursday.

Mali's government negotiator Tiebile Drame, who is in Bamako, told AFP that the ongoing discussions "do not compromise either the negotiating process or the signing of the accord", but he would not venture a date for the signing.

Rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and a smaller group, who want autonomy for the northern Tuareg homeland they call Azawad, said Tuesday they were prepared to ink a document put forward by regional mediator Burkina Faso.

"We won't obstruct the process," an official in the Tuareg delegation told AFP. "When the time comes, we'll sign no problem."

Next month's planned nationwide polls are seen as a key step in Mali's recovery from a crisis that saw Al Qaeda-linked groups take over the northern half of the country for nine months on the back of a March 2012 coup.

Former colonial power France, which sent in troops in January this year to pin back Islamist militants threatening to advance on the capital, has supported the interim administration's July 28 election target.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday on France 2 television: "I saw the text yesterday, it is a good text, and I hope if possible it will be signed today."

The transitional government that took over from the junta in Bamako said it was also ready to sign the deal but added it wanted a few changes made.

A source close to the negotiations said the Malian government was uneasy about stipulations concerning rebel disarmament and the conditions for the arrival of the Malian army.

In Geneva, the UN said Wednesday that Mali's military has since March carried out fewer reprisals against ethnic groups suspected of sympathising with rebels, but the human rights situation in the country remains dire.

"Instances of retaliatory violence committed by the Malian forces and the local population against Tuareg and Arab communities have decreased since mid-March," said Flavia Pansieri, the UN's assistant high commissioner for human rights.

"Nevertheless, the risks of reprisals against these communities remained significant given their perceived association with the armed groups, and this may present a major obstacle to the return and reintegration of those who have fled," she told the UN Human Rights Council.

"The human rights situation remains precarious" in the north, it cautioned.

The agency sent a mission to Mali in March to probe suspected abuses including enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention and arrest and summary executions.

In its report, it said armed groups, including the Tuareg rebel MNLA and the Islamist Ansar Dine group, were responsible for many of the abuses, but also pointed a finger at elements of the Malian military.