Witnesses say Islamist militants have seized a town from government troops in central Mali.
A spokesman for militant group Ansar Dine says Islamist fighters took control of Konna at 11 a.m. local time Thursday. Residents of Konna confirmed the takeover to VOA's French to Africa Service.
Malian army troops and militants clashed near Konna on Wednesday and again Thursday, amid indications that Islamist groups that control northern Mali are trying to push into the government-controlled south. Konna is about 45 kilometers outside of the city of Mopti, a key stronghold for the government.
A journalist in Mopti says things are "normal" there but that more soldiers have arrived.
Speaking to VOA Thursday, Malian Defense Ministry official Lieutenant-Colonel Diarran Kone denied the loss of Konna. He said the Malian army is, in his words, "going after the terrorists" but declined to outline the army's plans.
Talks scheduled for Thursday between Mali's government and the armed groups in the north have been postponed in the wake of the fighting.
The United Nations envoy to Mali, Romano Prodi, was due to arrive Thursday in the capital, Bamako. His talks with the government are expected to focus on when outside military intervention can come to Mali.
Last month, the U.N. Security Council approved a plan for West African states to deploy at least 3,000 troops to Mali to help train the army and retake the north.
Al-Qaida-linked groups took control of Mali's north soon after renegade soldiers overthrew the government last March.
Prodi has said he foresees no foreign troops in Mali until September of this year, but the Malian government says it wants the intervention to happen as soon as possible.