Bamako - Malian troops exchanged fire on Wednesday with armed Islamist groups that have been occupying the country's vast desert north for nine months and appear to be trying to push farther south.
The latest clashes, which a resident said included heavy-weapons fire, came less than 48 hours after the west African nation's army put down an attempted Islamist attack on the same town, Konna, which is located near the edge of the government-controlled zone and the regional capital of Mopti, the gateway to the south.
A Malian soldier told AFP by telephone from Konna: "We have launched operations against the enemy, who attempted to fight back.
"We are going to oust them," he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Konna residents confirmed the clashes.
One told AFP there had been heavy-weapons fire, saying the "war" between the Islamists and the military had erupted late in the afternoon and was still going on several hours later.
"We are hearing a lot of gunfire. The army is shooting and the Islamists too," said another resident reached by phone.
The Islamists, who control part of Mopti province, had previously tried to attack Konna overnight Monday, according to the army.
The Malian military has a command post near Konna in the town of Sevare, where the army had earlier sent reinforcements and extra weapons, according to residents and an army officer.
The armed Islamist groups controlling the north - al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), and Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) - could not immediately be reached for comment.
The clashes came after Nato said on Wednesday that it had not been asked to assist African forces in retaking control of the Malian north, an area the size of France.