Washington - The United States called for restraint and the "immediate" release of hostages on Sunday in Mali, where clashes between separatist militants and the army left dozens dead in the north.
Eight soldiers and 28 insurgents were killed in fighting on Saturday outside the regional governor's offices during Prime Minister Moussa Mara's visit to the desert town, the government said, adding that around 30 civil servants were being held hostage.
"We condemn these acts, which undermine the fragile peace in northern Mali and efforts to bring peace, security, and development to all of its citizens," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement.
"We call for the immediate release of all hostages, and urge all parties to refrain from violence and from any acts that place civilians at risk."
Psaki stressed that "the way to resolve these issues is through an inclusive and credible negotiation process, not through violence and intimidation."
Mara told AFP earlier that the country was "at war" with the "terrorists".
"We will mobilise the resources to fight this war," he added in a telephone interview.
The government has blamed the clashes on Tuareg separatists but Mara said militant groups had taken advantage of the crisis to infiltrate Kidal on Saturday night "to participate in the chaos alongside other terrorist groups."
Kidal, located 1 500km northeast of the capital Bamako, was the scene of anti-government protests by several hundred people on Friday and Saturday.