DHAKA Malian soldiers have fired on Islamist fighters in the centre of the country, military sources say.
It the first significant fighting reported between the two sides since Islamist and Tuareg rebels seized control of the north of the country last April.
The Islamists had reportedly tried to make an advance into the government-controlled south.
It is not clear whether there were any casualties.
The army used artillery against the Islamist fighters in the village of Gnimignama, 30km (19 miles) from army positions, according to army sources.
Representatives of the Malian government and Islamist and Tuareg rebels are due to hold talks in neighbouring Burkina Faso on 10 January.
The rebels seized power in the the north in the chaos following an army coup in March.
The alliance between the Islamists and Tuaregs quickly collapsed, with the Islamists taking the region`s main urban centres.
The Islamist groups have since destroyed ancient shrines in Timbuktu and imposed a brutal version of Islamic law, sparking international outrage.
Last month the UN Security Council gave its backing for an African-led military operation to help Mali`s government retake the north if no peaceful solution could be found in the coming months.
Regional bloc Ecowas says it has 3,300 troops ready to go to Mali - although an operation is not expected to begin before September 2013.
A day after the UN resolution, the Islamist Ansar Dine group and the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist group, said they were committed to finding a negotiated solution.
BDST: 0353 HRS, JAN 08, 2012
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