Prime Minister Moussa Mara (centre) said that Mali was “at war” with the separatists
Deadly clashes have broken out in northern Mali between soldiers and rebels, who seized dozens of officials as the prime minister visited the area.
At least 36 people reportedly died in Kidal as Tuareg rebels fought troops on Saturday before and during PM Moussa Mara’s visit.
When he left the governor’s office in Kidal, the building was then seized by the rebels, an eyewitness told the BBC.
In 2012 a Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali triggered a military coup.
Civilian rule was re-established in 2013, but Islamist and separatist forces remain active in some areas.
“Eight members of the armed forces were killed and 25 were wounded, while 28 of the attackers were killed,” the defence ministry said.
Mr Mara said that the government was now “at war” with the separatists. President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita is expected to give a national address on Monday.
Malian Defence Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said on Sunday that reinforcements would be sent to Kidal.
“We will double our troops on the ground if necessary,” AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
The rebels are thought to be from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
An MNLA spokesman told Reuters that the army had attacked the group first, following pro-independence protests in the town.
“We’ve taken about 40 prisoners, including high-ranking military officers and civil servants,” Attaye Ag Mohamed said, adding that the hostages were safe and that the MNLA was controlling key parts of Kidal.
The civil servants were seized when the rebels occupied the Kidal governor’s office and their whereabouts are unclear, the BBC’s Alex Duval Smith reports from the capital, Bamako.
The hostages are officials posted in the town by Mali’s government as a mark of sovereignty, our correspondent adds.
Further shooting was heard on Sunday and the governor’s office was still under rebel control, but the intensity of fighting was unclear, our correspondent adds.