Dozens of people have been killed in clashes between Islamic radicals and secular Tuareg fighters in northern Mali since Friday, witnesses and officials said.
"It's a real massacre, there are dozens dead," said a Malian security source, referring to the fighting in the region of Gao. Witnesses on the ground confirmed the scale of the clashes.
The fighting between Islamist group the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which is backed by Al-Qaeda's north African branch, and the ethnic Tuareg separatists of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) has been concentrated around the town of Menaka, near the border with Niger.
"There needs to be a genuine international investigation to find out what happened at Menaka," said the Malian security source, adding that dead bodies "could still be seen in the town".
A lawmaker for the Menaka district, Bajan Ag Hamato, said some of his fellow Tuareg had been killed "defending the town against MUJAO", including local political leader Alwabegat Ag Salakatou and six of his entourage.
"They were labelled MNLA, but in reality they were local patriots who wanted to defend their town," he said.
The MNLA has said its fighters killed 65 fighters from MUJAO and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) during the fighting, suffering just one death and 13 injuries on its side.
MUJAO for its part has said it killed more than 100 MNLA fighters and took 20 prisoners.
Mali, once considered one of west Africa's most stable democracies, was plunged into chaos by a March 22 coup that created a power vacuum and enabled rebels to seize control of the country's north.
The MNLA initially fought alongside the Islamist groups now controlling the vast desert territory.
But the Islamists quickly sidelined the more secular Tuareg fighters and have set about imposing strict Islamic law in the north, stoning an unmarried couple to death and amputating feet and hands from suspected thieves.Te