Ouagadougou - Mali government officials met with two armed groups for the first time Tuesday in a landmark encounter that saw the rebels pledge to respect the country's territorial integrity and root out "terrorism".
The meeting, hosted in neighbouring Burkina Faso, came amid growing calls to deploy an international African force to northern Mali to eject the Islamist groups that seized control there after a March coup.
The talks in Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou were hosted by the country's President Blaise Compaore, who has acted as top mediator in the crisis for regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).
During the talks, Bamako and the rebel groups - the Islamist Ansar Dine and the Tuareg Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) - agreed to "observe a cessation of hostilities", though there is not currently any fighting between the parties, and "recognised the need to create a framework of inclusive dialogue within Mali", according to a Burkina Faso statement.
Among the principles for dialogue going forward are "respect of national unity and the territorial integrity of Mali", the "rejection of any form of extremism and terrorism", and the "respect of human rights, human dignity and basic and religious freedoms", the statement said.
Mali was plunged into crisis when troops seized power in a March 22 coup, creating a power vacuum that allowed Tuareg and Islamist rebels to snatch the large desert north and take over key towns including Timbuktu.
The four main armed groups are the homegrown Ansar Dine and MNLA and the mainly foreign, al-Qaeda-linked jihadists of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao).