A Tuareg man holds a bullet near a destroyed vehicle belonging to Islamist rebels on the road between Diabaly and Timbuktu in Mali on Wednesday, January 30, 2013.

Dakar - Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore, said he was open to dialogue with autonomy-seeking Tuareg MNLA rebels provided they dropped any claim for independence but refused to negotiate with al-Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgents.

“Today, the only group that we could think of negotiating with is certainly the MNLA. But, of course, on condition the MNLA drops any pretence to a territorial claim,” Traore said.

The Tuareg rebels started a rebellion in northern Mali last year that was quickly hijacked by Islamist radicals who seized the northern two-thirds of the Sahel nation after a military coup in the capital Bamako.

A three-week ground and air offensive by French and Malian forces has broken the 10-month grip of the Islamist alliance – grouping Ansar Dine, MUJWA and al-Qaeda’s North African wing, Aqim – over the cities of northern Mali.

The MNLA said this week it had taken control of Kidal, the last of the Islamist strongholds after the militants abandoned the town. French troops occupied the town’s airport on Tuesday. – Reuters