BAMAKO, Mali — Separatist Tuareg rebels in northern Mali said late Thursday they were suspending their participation in a peace accord with the government, marking a major setback for the newly elected president who is trying to reunite the country after a 2012 rebellion led to massive upheaval.
The accord signed in June in neighboring Burkina Faso had paved the way for the Malian military to return to the northern provincial capital of Kidal some 18 months after Malian soldiers fled in the wake of a renewed rebellion.
Already, though, there had been signs of strain. Earlier this month, Malian soldiers clashed with Tuareg rebels near the Mauritanian border in the first fighting to erupt since the two sides signed the peace accord.
Under the June agreement, peace talks were set to begin by late November between President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita's new government and rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, the name they give to their northern homeland. Two other groups that were to take part also said they would be dropping out.
In a statement late Thursday, founding NMLA member Mossa Ag Acharatoumane accused the Malian government of failing to live up to its end of the bargain after the military was able to return to the areas not under its control.
"Everything that they promised us in the accord has not been respected," he told The Associated Press.
There was no immediate comment from the Malian government or from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali.
Tuareg separatists have said that the government has failed to begin the process of releasing prisoners as called for under the deal. The rebels also had agreed to garrison their fighters, but the insurgents were frequently spotted outside their assigned bases in Kidal.
Ethnic Tuareg rebels have sought sovereignty since Mali's independence from France in 1960, and their latest rebellion last year marked their biggest inroads yet. Anger over the Malian military's handling of the Tuareg separatist rebellion, which led to heavy soldier casualties, prompted the March 2012 coup in the distant capital.
The Tuaregs, though, were later sidelined by radical al-Qaida-linked jihadists. Since a French-led military intervention forced the extremists from power, the NMLA has again regained its prominence in Kidal. Even after the Malian military seized back the northern towns of Timbuktu and Gao, it took the June 18 agreement for the soldiers to be allowed back into Kidal.
Even now, the separatist flag still flies there, and the Malian military's presence remains highly controversial.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.