Tuareg rebels who have declared a separate state in northern Mali met Saturday for the first time with the West African mediator in the Malian crisis, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore.
An AFP journalist saw three unidentified officials of the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA) go into talks with Compaore, the mediator appointed by the Economic Community of West African States, and his foreign minister, Djibrill Basole.
The meeting came after clashes were reported near the regional capital Kidal between fighters of the MNLA and others from the Islamist Ansar Dine, following the collapse of efforts by the two groups to join in setting up a breakaway state.
The rebels seized control of the north while a military coup was unfolding in Mali's capital Bamako in March.
The MNLA, calling itself "resolutely secular," declared the independence of the north in April but said last Friday it had rejected a deal with Ansar Dine because of that group's insistence on implementing sharia, or Islamic law.
Meanwhile on Thursday residents of Timbuktu said they had launched an armed group to kick out the Islamists currently controlling the ancient city in the far north of Mali.
The African Union on Thursday called for UN backing for military intervention in the north.
On Friday, Malian government spokesman government spokesman Hamadoun Toure said "all options are possible, national and international."
"We are currently analysing the situation as it evolves," he said.
Last month Burkina Faso said envoys sent to northern Mali had begun talks with the rebel groups, including the MNLA.