At least 16 soldiers killed and 10 more wounded near the village of Bodio, Mopti region, according to officials.
The Malian government has denied that it plans to negotiate with leaders of al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, walking back an earlier statement from its religion ministry saying that it would do so.
“The Government informs the national and international public that to date, no national or international organisation has been officially mandated to carry out such an activity,” the government said in a statement published on social media on Thursday night.
The government in the Sahel state said that it had learned of talks of imminent negotiations “through the press”, directly contradicting an announcement issued by the religious affairs ministry earlier this week.
Spokesperson Khalil Camara told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that it had asked the country’s main Islamic body, the High Islamic Council (HCI), to open negotiations with the leaders of the al Qaeda-linked Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM).
The statement drew comment because it would have marked the first time the government formalised dialogue with such groups, who are waging a brutal armed uprising across much of the north and centre of the vast nation of 19 million people.
Malian authorities have previously endorsed the idea of talks and have quietly backed local peace initiatives with the fighters as security deteriorates and armed groups expand beyond their traditional strongholds.
Many Malians view holding talks as one of the few ways to end the violence that has raged in the country since 2012, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
The strategy is opposed by Mali’s chief military ally, France.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in June that his troops would not conduct joint operations with countries that negotiate with such groups.
Macron’s recent criticism of the country’s government, which is dominated by army figures, has opened a rift between France and Mali. Earlier this month, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga responded to Macron’s criticism by accusing Paris of training “terrorist” groups operating in the West African country.
Maiga said French troops had created an enclave in Kidal, a town in the desert region of northern Mali, and handed it over to a “terrorist group” known as Ansar al-Din, allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. He said the Malian military was banned from entering the territory.