Mali's defence ministry says the armed forces have killed about 20 northern separatist rebels and taken a dozen more prisoner during two days of clashes in the Timbuktu region.
Heavy weapons fire was heard on Saturday near the northern town of Kidal, north-east of Timbuktu, which the rebellion says it is in the process of attacking.
Veteran Tuareg insurgents and men returning from Libya's war last year are fighting to create an independent state in north Mali. They have gained ground in a three-pronged advance, scattering thousands across Mali's north and beyond its borders.
Mali's Defence Ministry said the rebels had been killed during two days of operations in Timbuktu, one of three regions targeted by the rebels. There were no losses of government troops, the ministry said.