Pro-government militia fighters in Mali say they've begun withdrawing from a town where the group's fighters have clashed with separatist rebels.

Fihroun Maiga, a spokesman for the militia coalition, said Sunday that its fighters have begun pulling out from Anefis in what he described as a "progressive" withdrawal.

Maiga declined to speculate on how long it would take until the fighters, with all of their weapons, have left the town.

Mali's president ordered the pro-government militia to unconditionally leave Anefis but the group had said it wanted to stay to be sure the rebels did not return.

Militia fighters seized the town Aug. 18, a move critics say violated a fragile peace accord signed back in June with the government and separatist Tuareg rebels.