Mali's Tuareg separatist rebels have declared a unilateral ceasefire after capturing enough territory in the northern half of the country to form ‘their own state.’
The rebels have since January been fighting to establish independence in a northern territory known as Azawad.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said in a statement posted on its website on Friday that the group had already seized control of large areas in the northern half of the country to create an independent Azawad state on the edge of Sahara Desert.
"We solemnly proclaim the independence of Azawad as from today," said the group’s spokesman, Mossa Ag Attaher, adding that the rebels would respect ‘the borders with other states.’
"We completely accept the role and responsibility that behoves us to secure this territory. We have ended a very important fight, that of liberation...now the biggest task commences," he added.
The online statement highlighted MNLA’s "firm commitment to create the conditions for lasting peace [and] to initiate the institutional foundations for a state based on a democratic constitution for an independent Azawad."
The announcement comes as the military chiefs of 15 West-African nations met in Ivory Coast on Thursday to hash out their plan for a military intervention in Mali. They seek to reverse a coup that deposed Mali's president last month and preserve the country's territorial integrity.
On March 22, mutinous Malian soldiers led by coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure and took control of government institutions.
The leaders of the movement said they had mounted the coup out of anger at the government's inability to contain the two-month-old rebellion in the north.
Sanogo has sent a delegation to Nigeria, hoping to receive aid to restore Mali’s borders.