An armed Islamist group occupying parts of northern Mali says it has joined forces with one of the country's main separatist movements.
Alghabasse Ag Intalla, head of the Islamic Movement for Azawad, told VOA correspondent Idriss Fall that the Islamist group has signed an agreement with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA.
Intalla says the two groups will hold a congress in May to officially unify the movements.
The Islamic Movement of Azawad was formed recently by self-described "moderates" within the Ansar Dine rebel group.
Officials from the movement have said they are seeking autonomy for northern Mali, not independence.
Intalla, who was the former negotiator of Ansar Dine, says that although his group is currently fighting Islamists in the region, they will not help Malian forces in Kidal unless a political solution is found on the Tuareg situation.
Ansar Dine rebels joined with ethnic Tuaregs to seize control of northern Mali following the March 2012 coup. Ansar Dine and other Islamist groups then took full control of the region, where they have moved to impose strict Islamic law.
In other developments, a Chadian soldier was killed Tuesday in fighting in the Ifoghas mountains in the country's north. Nearly 30 Chadian soldiers have been killed in the operation so far.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.