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By Hamid Ould Ahmed
Algiers - Mali signed an Algerian-brokered peace agreement on Tuesday with Tuareg rebels seeking greater autonomy for their northern desert region, witnesses said.
"This courageous and responsible action carries a promising perspective for all Malian people," Algerian Foreign Minister Mohamed Bedjaoui said at a signing ceremony in Algiers, adding it would bolster the unity of the poor Sahelian state.
"Without national cohesiveness, the country's future risks being lastingly compromised and overshadowed by dangers."
The light-skinned, nomadic gunmen attacked army camps in the Saharan trading town of Kidal in May, looting vehicles and arms before retreating to mountains near the Algerian border, raising fears of a full-scale desert rebellion.
Mali's Territorial Administration Minister Kafougouna Kone travelled to Algeria last month for talks with Tuareg leaders, who launched revolts from Kidal in the 1960s and 1990s demanding greater freedom from a black African-dominated government.
An Algerian said the deal was called the "Algiers accord for the restoration of peace and security in the Kidal region".
"I would like to reaffirm the government's commitment to respect this accord," Kone told the signing ceremony.
Malian officials have said the government had agreed to speed up development in the impoverished north and to allow deserters to rejoin the army. He said some who had joined the ranks of the insurgents had already returned to barracks.