Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara has declared his government is now “at war” with Tuareg rebels after Saturday’s deadly clashes between the army and the separatists left 36 people dead.
Mara has also sent in troops to retake the town of Kidal from the rebels who have reportedly seized 28 civil servants.
During a news conference Mara said: “This violence is a declaration of war and cannot be viewed differently. The Republic of Mali is henceforth at war and we will make the appropriate response to the situation.”
Mara had been making his first visit to the north since his appointment last month as part of an effort to revive talks with the armed groups.
The rebels say they are holding the hostages because the government has failed to live up to its commitment to move towards peace talks.
On Sunday further gunfire could be heard in Kidal as troops tried to recapture the governor’s office. Latest reports say six of the officials have been killed.
The flare-up of violence comes in a trouble spot many had hoped had been brought under control. West African nations and their international partners are currently redoubling efforts elsewhere to contain Islamist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria.