An Islamist group in Mali said Thursday it had split from other rebels fighting French and Malian forces in the north of the country and wanted talks with the government in Bamako, DPA reported.
The Islamic Movement of Azawad, which is northern Mali's Tuareg name, had split from the Islamist Ansar Dine movement and had gathered more than 250 fighters, a source close to rebels in the town of Kidal told dpa.
The source said that the movement was led by Alghabbas ag Intalla, the son of a traditional chief in Kidal.
But he cast doubt on whether the group was serious about its desire for talks.
"What he said his goal is, is to fight against the Islamists," the source said. "But ... they are still the same people. It is just to search for a way out of the French-Malian clamp-down."
Tuareg rebels took advantage of a power coup in Bamako to seize northern Mali in early 2012, but were quickly swept aside by Islamist groups, who imposed strict sharia law on the local population.
A push earlier this month by the Islamist rebels towards the capital in the south of the West African nation prompted former colonial power France to intervene with airstrikes against the militants.
While it remains the sole power conducting the airstrikes, it has been receiving some logistical support from European nations, Canada and the United States.
About 2,300 French troops are now on the ground in Mali, along with more than 1,000 African troops.
Earlier Thursday Human Rights Watch said it was probing allegations of abuses against civilians by the Malian army during the ongoing campaign.
Tirana Hassan, a researcher with the group, said eyewitnesses testified that they saw two Tuareg men killed by Malian soldiers in a summary execution in an area close to Diabaly, a town which has seen heavy fighting.
Other sources told the group several women were sexually abused by Malian soldiers near the central town of Mopti.
"The Malian authorities should urgently investigate these incidents and take prompt and appropriate action against those responsible," Hassan said, adding that investigations to understand exactly what happened were still ongoing.
Other human rights groups said they were also receiving reports of severe abuses and were investigating the allegations.
Malian military officials denied having any knowledge about abuses. The government has said soldiers' conduct must be "irreproachable."
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told broadcaster France 24 that Malian forces should be "extremely vigilant" following reports of rights abuses against ethnic Tuaregs.
"It's their honour that is at stake," he warned the Malian army.
In the lead up to the war, analysts had cautioned that the army could seek revenge against the minority group.
Pierre Boilley, a professor at Sorbonne University and Africa research director at the national CNRS research institute, said he hoped the involvement of French forces, alongside Malian and African forces, would "help calm things down."