Tuareg rebels in Mali must disarm 'when time comes'

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday that Tuareg separatists in Mali would have to accept giving up arms along with other armed groups in the restive north.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has abandoned its decades-old rebellion for independence to help France push out Islamic extremists who overran northern Mali.

But it has refused to allow Malian troops to enter the small desert city of Kidal, 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, which is a traditional Tuareg stronghold.

"When the time comes every group, the MNLA as much as any other armed group, will have to accept being confined (to cantonments) and giving up its arms," Fabius told a press conference in the Malian capital Bamako.

The MNLA captured Kidal last year as part of a renewed Tuareg rebellion for the independence of northern Mali, along with the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, which sparked the country's rapid implosion.

However they quickly lost control of the towns to Islamist militias who had formerly been their allies.

The MNLA moved back into Kidal when the Islamists fled in the face of a French-led offensive to drive them out at the end of January.

It now serves as a base for French and Chadian troops fighting the Islamists who have holed up in the region's Ifoghas mountains.

France, which has 4,000 troops in Mali, is planning to withdraw in the coming weeks and hand over to an African force, known as AFISMA, which would be transformed into a UN peacekeeping mission.

"In a democratic country there cannot be two armies. Kidal is part of the Malian territory," Fabius said, highlighting that there was no tie between the MNLA and French forces.