The Tuareg tribes that overran Mali's military with the help of Arab extremist groups aligned with al-Qaeda have long held slaves and many of the captives are from families that have been enslaved for generations.

"It's no way to live, without your freedom," said Mohammed Yattara, a former slave who ran away from his Tuareg masters years ago.

"You depend on them for everything. If they tell you to do something, you have to do it, or they will beat you," he said as he sat with the chief of the village of Toya and among men and women who were descendants of slaves or former slaves.

"You can marry, but if the master wants to have sex with your wife, he will. Everything that's yours is theirs," Yattara said.

Tuaregs are a semi-nomadic people of North Africa's Sahara desert whose traditional land was divided into several nations, the borders of which were drawn by European colonialist powers.

They predate the Arab tribes that moved into the region centuries ago and in Mali, a former French colony, Tuaregs lived primarily in the north part of the country.