Separatist Tuareg forces on Tuesday rejected the idea of a direct inter-Malian dialogue for peace and reconciliation put forward by the country’s military rulers, after months of hostilities between rebels and the army. Fighting between the separatists and Mali government troops broke out again in August after eight years of calm as both sides scrambled to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers. During his New Year’s address on Sunday, Mali’s military ruler Colonel Assimi Goita announced the establishment of a “direct inter-Malian dialogue for peace and reconciliation, in order to eliminate the roots of community and intercommunity conflicts”. He said the dialogue would “prioritise national ownership of the peace process”. Goita added that the unity, secularity and territorial integrity of the Malian state would not be discussed, and vowed to continue the fight against “armed terrorist groups”, a label Mali’s military leaders extend to the Tuareg separatists. An Algiers-brokered peace agreement between Bamako and predominantly Tuareg armed groups was signed in 2015. Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane, a spokesman for the Tuareg rebellion, told AFP that Goita’s announcement of an inter-Malian peace dialogue was “a way of pronouncing the (2015) agreement definitively null and void and kicking out the international mediation”. “We see this as a rejection of an agreement already signed by all parties and guaranteed by the international community, and we are not ready to take part in a peace process that will only be a sham,” he added. Mali’s military leaders, who seized power in a 2020 coup, in November recaptured the strategic northern town of Kidal, a stronghold of Tuareg-dominated separatist groups that has long posed a major sovereignty issue for the ruling junta. At the time, the rebels admitted they had lost their stronghold town but vowed to keep fighting. Algeria is the main mediator in efforts to return peace to northern Mali and some leaders of Tuareg separatist groups currently live in Algeria, according to the heads of their movements. Relations between Mali and Algeria have been at an all-time low since Bamako criticised Algiers for holding meetings with Tuareg separatists without involving the Malian authorities. Both countries recalled their ambassadors at the end of December. Malian forces meanwhile said Tuesday they had repelled a “terrorist” attack near the key northeastern city of Menaka, near the border with Niger and surrounded by Islamic State group fighters. The MSA-GATIA alliance of pro-Bamako armed groups said they had suffered three fatalities and killed four jihadist fighters.