Three “peace agreements” have been signed by representatives from herder and farmer communities that have become trapped in violence sparked by armed group attacks in central Mali, a Swiss mediator said.
The accords bring together the Fulani – also called Peul – who mainly comprise semi-nomadic herders, and the Dogon, who are chiefly sedentary farmers.
The two groups have historic tensions over access to land and water, but the friction turned bloody after armed fighters pushed into their region more than five years ago.
“On 12, 22 and 24 January 2021, the Fulani and Dogon communities signed three peace agreements with humanitarian objectives,” the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), a Swiss organisation, said on Tuesday.
They apply to Koro, a county-sized area bordering Burkina Faso that has borne some of the worst bloodshed, it said in a statement.
Remote and dangerous, the area is only entered regularly by humanitarian groups, United Nations patrols and the army.
Under the accords, the signatories pledged to encourage members of their communities “to work for peace by forgiving past acts and spread messages of cohesion and calm”.
They also agreed to “guarantee physical integrity, the free circulation of people, goods and cattle … to respect the habits and customs” of all, and enable people of all communities to have access to villages and markets, the statement said.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dakar in neighbouring Senegal, said the agreements were “significant” and a “breakthrough” as they come at a time of intensified violence and attacks.
“In the absence of the Malian state and of security, these two ethnic groups have resorted to armed militias … for protection,” Haque said.
“At the heart of all of this is access to land – for the Fulanis who are mostly herders, access to land to graze their animals. And for Dogons, who are mostly farmers, it’s access to land to grow food,” he said.
The agreement is also meant to help the displaced return home.
Last week, the UN refugee agency said more than two million people were forced to flee their homes within their own countries’ borders owing to the violence engulfing Africa’s Sahel region.
On top of the internally displaced, more than 850,000 people have fled Mali and taken shelter in other countries, it said.
Similar agreements were signed just over two years ago but failed to stem the violence.
Central Mali, a mosaic of many communities, came under strain in 2015 when a ruthless al-Qaeda group appeared on the scene.
It was led by an ethnic Fulani preacher named Amadou Koufa, who largely recruited among members of his own community.
Other ethnic groups, notably the Dogon and Bambara, formed so-called self-defence forces, setting the scene for bloody tit-for-tat violence.
One of these groups, a Dogon armed group called the Dan Nan Ambassagou, has been accused by NGOs and the UN of carrying out massacres in Fulani villages, an allegation it denies.
The force has officially been dissolved but remains active.
The Malian army has also been accused of abuses towards the Fulani in the Koro area, and many Fulani have fled for the safety of the regional capital, Mopti.