French journalist duo killed in Mali
A handout photo of RFI journalists Ghislaine Dupont (L) and Claude Verlon (Reuters)

Two French radio journalists have been abducted and murdered by gunmen in the troubled town of Kidal in northern Mali.

"Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont, journalists at RFI [Radio France Internationale], were found dead in Mali. They had been kidnapped by armed gunmen in Kidal," said the French foreign ministry.

French President Francois Hollande condemned the murders as "despicable".

"The French government, in conjunction with the Malian authorities, will make every effort to find out as soon as possible about the circumstances of their death," the French foreign ministry added.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

The journalists were kidnapped shortly after interviewing a rebel leader of separatist group Tuareg in Mali's unstable desert north. Their bodies were found outside Kidal.

Kidal is a Tuareg stronghold and the mutiny that plunged Mali into chaos last year began here. The uprising precipitated the fall of the region to al-Qaida-linked Islamists.

"I heard an unusual noise in the street. Their car was parked in front of my house, about 10m from the door. I went out to see what was happening. Once I got to the door, I saw a car, a pick-up, parked next to theirs. There was a man on the ground who had a weapon. He immediately pointed it at me and said: 'Go back inside, go back in!'" said Ambeiry Ag Rhissa, a member of National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist group.

In January 2013, France led a surprise military operation to flush out Islamist militants, but insurgents are still active in the region.

The defence ministry in Paris said the journalists had been warned that travelling to Mali's troubled regions was unsafe and inadvisable.

"They were advised to not travel there due to insecurity that continues to reign in the area and the rivalry between different groups operating in the area. Despite this advice, the two journalists took MINSUMA transportation to get to Kidal," said the ministry.