, BAMAKO, June 19- Mali’s warring factions look close to signing a landmark peace deal to end years of unrest after pro-government militia leaders agreed to evacuate a flashpoint town and the government dropped arrest warrants for several rebels.
“After talks with mediators and partners, we the GATIA (a pro government militia) have decided to facilitate the process of pulling out from Menaka,” the group’s general secretary Haballa Ag Hamza told AFP, adding that the withdrawal will start on Friday.
“We want peace, we’re making an important gesture, but it’s clear that it is the UN mission which must ensure the safety of Menaka’s population, and not another group,” he said.
Loyalist militias seized Menaka from the west African country’s Tuareg led rebel alliance in April, in an operation which has sparked several violations of a ceasefire agreement and left many dead on both sides.
The move threatened to undermine the country’s already fragile and long-running peace process, which seeks to end years of bloody insurgency by Tuareg and other armed militias in the country’s volatile northern desert.
Fighters from the rebellion, known as the CMA, are due on Saturday to sign the Algiers Accord, a peace deal hammered out under the auspices of the UN that has already been rubber stamped by the government and loyalist armed groups.
A person close to the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, confirmed a deal had been struck to evacuate pro-government forces from the northeastern town, which lies close to the Nigerian border.