Tuareg separatists in Mali have accepted a ceasefire agreement proposed by African Union and United Nations officials, according to a senior Tuareg official.

"I can confirm that we have agreed to a ceasefire," Ambeiry Ag Rhissa told Reuters by telephone from Kidal on Friday.

"We have also agreed an exchange of prisoners and that an independent commission of inquiry should investigate what happened in [the northern town of] Kidal."

The truce was agreed following talks between the Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Tuaregs in Kidal, the site of deadly fighting earlier this week.

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Albert Koenders, the UN special representative in Mali, accompanied Abdel Aziz in the meetings.

A source in the Tuareg delegation at the meeting told Reuters the rebels had wanted the Malian government to accept responsibility for the clashes.

Mali's defence minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said late on Thursday about 20 soldiers had been killed and 30 others wounded in a failed attempt by government forces to retake Kidal, the Tuareg separatist stronghold.

The army launched Wednesday's assault on Kidal after clashes erupted at the weekend during a visit to the town by new Prime Minister Moussa Mara.

Eight civilians, including six government workers, were killed when the separatists attacked the local governor's office.

Another 32 civil servants taken hostage by the rebels were later released.

The government accused the separatists, including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), of renewing their former alliances with al Qaeda-linked groups.

Source: Agencies