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Mali rebels retreat ahead of polls

Bamako - Tuareg rebels occupying Mali's northern town of Kidal will return to their barracks this weekend, a UN official said Friday, as the West African country that suffered a coup more than a year ago prepares to hold elections later this month.

The retreat will mark an important step towards holding peaceful, free and fair presidential elections, said Bert Koenders, the UN Special Representative in Mali.

Malian interim President Dioncounda Traore (centre, in white scarf) watches a graduation ceremony for gendarmes in Bamako. REUTERS/Adama Diarra. Credit: REUTERS

“I welcome this progress, which represents a significant development in the process of normalising the situation in Kidal. It will allow us to put into place the necessary measures to hold elections on July 28,” Koenders said in a statement.

The rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) will cease armed patrols and settle in three localities in and around the town.

This will allow Mali's national army and civil servants to return to Kidal under the protection of the United Nations mission for Mali, MINUSMA, which was launched on July 1.

Since a military coup toppled president Amadou Toumani Toure in April 2012, most of Mali has been under control of an interim government.

The region around Kidal remained until now in the hands of the rebels, who demand independence for the north of the country, which they refer to as the Azawad. - Sapa-dpa

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