DAKAR, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore said on Thursday he was open to dialogue with autonomy-seeking Tuareg MNLA rebels provided they dropped any claim for independence but refused to negotiate with al Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgents.
"Today, the only group that we could think of negotiating with is certainly the MNLA. But, of course, on condition that the MNLA drops any pretence to a territorial claim," Traore told French radio RFI.
The Tuareg rebels started a rebellion in northern Mali last year that was quickly hijacked by Islamist radicals who seized the northern two-thirds of the Sahel nation following a military coup in the capital Bamako.
A three-week ground and air offensive by French and Malian forces has broken the 10-month grip of the Islamist alliance -- grouping Ansar Dine, MUJWA and al Qaeda's North African wing AQIM -- over the cities of northern Mali.
The MNLA said this week that they had taken control of Kidal, the last of the Islamist strongholds after the militants abandoned the town. French troops occupied the town's airport on Tuesday.
The Islamists instituted a strict form of sharia Islamic law, imposing whippings and beatings for offences such as smoking or listening to music.
"For Ansar Dine, I think the only solution for them is to formally announce that they are rejecting the application of the sharia law," Traore said.
Asked about the whereabouts Ansar Dine's leader Iyad Ag Ghali, Traore said he heard he had retreated into the Tirarar mountains near the Algerian border. (Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Rosalind Russell)