BAMAKO - Gunmen stormed a hotel in the remote centre of Mali on Friday in an ongoing attack that has left at least one person dead, military sources and residents said. Malian troops were surrounding the Byblos hotel in the desert town of Sevare after what may have been an attempt to kidnap Western guests, the military sources said. At least five foreigners - three South Africans, a French national and a Ukrainian - were registered at the hotel, the sources said. "The Fama (Malian armed forces) have sealed off the area... and the operation is still going on," one military source told AFP from Gao, the main town in northern Mali. A body could be seen lying in front of the hotel, the source added.

One resident said she had been woken early Friday by the sound of gunshots and was hiding out at her home with her family. "The shooting is still going on but I don't know who is shooting," she told AFP.

Initial reports said the assault targeted another hotel, the Debo, but the military source in Gao said it was the Byblos that had come under attack.

"The army is trying to find (the attackers) and remove them," a Mali army official told AFP from the capital Bamako, adding however that the operation was delicate because of the presence of guests in the hotel.

Several foreigners have been kidnapped by the militants in Mali in recent years.

South African Stephen Malcolm McGowan and Swede Johan Gustafson were abducted in Timbuktu in November 2011 and have been held since by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

A Dutch hostage kidnapped with the pair was rescued in April in a raid by French special forces.

In June, Al-Qaeda's north African branch released footage of a militant with an English accent parading the two hostages.

French hostage Serge Lazarevic was freed in December last year after three years in the hands of the militants in Mali.

AQIM was among several militant groups that took control of Mali's north in 2012 before being ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

Sevare lies near the main regional town of Mopti, more than 620 kilometres (390 miles) northeast of Bamako.

"We still don't know if the terrorists have been arrested. According to our information, they tried to kidnap Westerners but they didn't succeed," said another local resident contacted by phone by AFP.