Residents in northern Mali say Islamic rebels have taken the town of Menaca from secular Tuareg rebels.
Witnesses in Menaca, as well as the town's mayor (Baay Ag Muhammed) who is in exile in the capital, Bamako, tell VOA that rebels from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, are in control of the town.
MUJAO and another Islamic group, Ansar Dine, seized control of much of northern Mali earlier this year in the confusion that followed a military coup in Bamako. Both Islamic groups are believed to have close links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Secular Tuareg rebels were once aligned with the Islamic groups, but the alliance broke down over a dispute about implementing Sharia in the region. The Islamic militants have held public executions, amputations and floggings in an effort to enforce their strict version of Islamic
Last month, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution clearing the way for the deployment of foreign troops to Mali.
The Economic Community of West Africa States has offered to send a force of about 3,000 soldiers to stabilize Mali, rebuild the country's shattered army and help drive the militants from the north.
The United Nations says fighting in northern Mali has displaced nearly 400,000 people this year. And it warns that more than 4.5 million people in the region face shrinking food supplies.