A "number" of people held by gunmen during a standoff at a hotel in central Mali have been freed overnight and at least five foreigners evacuated from the site, according to Malian military sources.
"We cannot say that everything is finished, but a number of hostages" were freed by Malian forces deployed around the Hotel Byblos in Sevare, a source said early Saturday, after it was stormed by the gunmen in an attack that has left at least seven people dead, including a UN contractor.
"Work continues, it is not over," the source said, without elaborating.
Another source said Malian Special Forces had rescued the hostages, including five foreigners "who were evacuated to Bamako". The source was unable to specify their nationalities.
The governments of Russia and Ukraine confirmed earlier they each had a national among the hostages.
Part of the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) was also staying in the hotel, the government said.
The attackers had stormed the hotel, frequented by foreign visitors and troops in Sevare some 620 kilometres (385 miles) northeast of Bamako, at around 7:00 am (0700 GMT) Friday, according to the government.
Malian forces cordoned off the area but their efforts against the gunmen were made "sensitive" by the presence of hostages, explained a military source.
It was not clear how many people were being held in the hotel by the attackers.
The government statement Friday evening gave a provisional toll of "five dead, two injured" on the Malian army side and "two killed" on the insurgent side. Seven suspects had been detained, it added.
MINUSMA said "a member of MINUSMA"s associate international staff" was killed in the "terrorist attack", without giving the victim's nationality. It was not clear if that death was included in the government toll.
The UN mission said the initial target of the attack was a Malian military site.