Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore said on Thursday 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 that the MNLA drops any pretence to a territorial claim," Traore told French radio RFI.

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 following a military coup in the capital Bamako.

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