DAKAR (Reuters) - Warring Tuareg clans in northern Mali have agreed to cease hostilities after tit-for-tat violence killed dozens of people in the past month.
Fighting between Tuareg clans known as the Imghads and Daoussak and their allies broke out in the Gao region in February and residents have reported massacres by gunmen from both sides, sometimes with women and children as victims.
The clashes, fueled by the suspected murder of a Daoussak chief, underscore the challenges faced by the United Nations in implementing a wider peace deal signed in June in order to stop a cycle of rebellions led by the Tuareg minority in the north.
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars pledged by international donors, the deal has stalled partly due to an intensifying Islamist insurgency which has worsened access for U.N. peacekeepers as well as the Malian army.
The clan deal could remove one hurdle to any progress.
"The two communities have agreed as follows: to halt all forms of violence across the area, especially around Menaka and the Ansongo circle," an agreement signed by clan leaders showed.
They signed the deal after a meeting in Tinfadimata, about 50 km south of Gao, this week.
Radhia Achouri, spokeswoman for the 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA), confirmed an agreement had been reached, adding that U.N. officials had helped mediate.
"We believe that such local arrangements contribute to efforts aiming at moving forward with the peace process," she said.
The United Nations has sent a team of rights experts to the area to investigate but it has not yet released its findings.
Last year, a separate feud between Tuareg clans threatened to undermine the peace deal until a community ceasefire signed in October allayed tensions.
However, the Tinfadimata document made no mention of Fulani communities who are long-standing rivals of the Daoussak and have also been involved in some of the recent violence.
One of the challenges for U.N. peacekeepers and other forces trying to restore order is the difficulty distinguishing between desert jihadists and various secular militants who signed the June peace deal. Both operate in Mali's lawless north.
French troops drove out Islamist militants from northern cities in 2013 but they have since regrouped and stepped up attacks on U.N. and Malian forces, killing at least 20 since the start of the year.
(Reporting by Souleymane Ag Anara and Emma Farge; Editing by Alison Williams)