An official in northern Mali says clashes have broken out near Timbuktu between secular Tuareg rebels and Arab militants.

Moctar Ould Souleymane, an official in the town of Ber, has told The Associated Press the fighting erupted when five vehicles of armed fighters from the Arab Movement of Azawad showed up late Sunday.

The Arab militants said they had come to chase Tuareg rebels out of the town who had been accused of attacking Arab-owned businesses.

The violence underscores the tensions that remain in northern Mali three months after a French-led military operation largely ousted radical Islamic fighters from the area.

The sidelining of the al-Qaida-linked fighters has allowed for the Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad to regain a presence in the area.