France's defence minister has confirmed that French forces are engaged in heavy fighting in northern Mali, as  suicide car bombing killed six government allies in the city of Kidal.

The bomber carried out the attack on Tuesday evening at a checkpoint at an entrance to Kidal, Ag Alghabas Intalla, a leader of the Islamic Movement of Azawad, or MIA, said by phone from Kidal.

He said he counted six dead and others wounded. The MIA group is fighting with the Malian army and French troops against armed rebels.