The negotiations include representatives of the UN, EU and the AU.
Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, said government and rebels were holding peace talks in Algiers intended to end decades of uprisings, after an exchange of prisoners.
Mali’s vast desert north called Azawad by the rebels, has risen up four times since independence from France in 1960.
Last year, the French forces intervened to drive back Islamists who had taken advantage of a Tuareg-led rebellion and were advancing on the south.
Mr. Diop said the talks are the first since fighting in the Tuareg stronghold of Kidal killed around 50 Malian soldiers in May.
The light-skinned Tuaregs and Arabs had accused black African governments in the capital Bamako of excluding them from power.
France, Mali’s northern neighbour Algeria and the West Africa regional bloc ECOWAS, are all pushing for talks in spite of deep distrust between Bamako and rebels, and among the separatist groups.
Diop said the negotiations, which include representatives of the UN, EU and the AU, are aimed at laying out a framework for a broad peace deal.
“The government is committed to talks in good faith, in a spirit of openness and confidence, to reach a definitive agreement with our brothers in the north,” he said.
Algeria’s government said it had helped to broker the prison swap with 45 civilians and troops from the government in exchange for 42 members and sympathisers of rebel movements before the talks started.