Mali officials say the army attacked Islamist rebels with heavy weapons in the center of the country which divides the insurgent-held north and the government-controlled south.

Lt. Col. Diarran Kone, communication adviser for the Ministry of Defense, told The Associated Press by phone Thursday that the army attacked the rebel positions north of Konna, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) northeast of the capital, Bamako. The rebels said they repelled the attack and captured some soldiers.

Kone said the heavy weapons fire between the two sides began around 5 p.m. (1700 GMT) Wednesday and lasted for several hours.

A spokesman for the Islamist rebel group, Ansar Dine, reached on the phone in Timbuktu, confirmed the fighting and said the insurgents repelled the attack without suffering casualties.