At least 16 people have been killed by government soldiers in the central Malian region of Segou, when the army opened fire on their vehicle, a government official and the police have said.
The incident occurred overnight on Saturday in the town of Diabali, and authorities said those killed were Islamist fighters. Among the dead were two Malians and 14 Mauritanian nationals, Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reported from Mali's capital Bamako on Sunday. Our correspondent said there were two differing accounts of what had taken place.
"A military source told Al Jazeera that these were Islamists - Mauritanians, Malians - who ignored calls by the army to stop at a checkpoint, which prompted the army to open fire," our correspondent said.
"This has been contradicted and challenged by sources in the town in Segou. They told us that the people were preachers in fact, and not Islamists, who operate within a group which is recognised by the authorities in Mauritania and Mali.
"They were on their way to attend a religious gathering in the capital Bamako, when the army opened fire, killing them," Ahelbarra said citing sources.
An army officer on Sunday said that soldiers had opened fire as they came across two groups of Islamists who tried to take over the Diabali military post, but he did not give a death toll, saying only: "They were wiped out".
A Malian security ministry official said: "Sixteen members of the Dawa sect who would not stop their vehicle after warning shots were fired were treated as enemies in Diabali, Saturday night."
A police officer confirmed the death toll to the AFP news agency, also saying that the dead were members of a Muslim sect. "This is something which is definitely going to strain relations between the Mauritanian government and the Malians," our correspondent said.
There were no immediate reports indicating whether those killed were armed, and it was not immediately clear if the presence of suspected Islamists in the area signified an advance by the fighters who have controlled northern Mali for five months.
Malian troops are on high alert after Islamists seized control of more than half of the country following a disastrous army coup in March in Bamako that led to political chaos and a collapsed military presence in the north.