France is worried that Al-Qaida's influence is growing in the wartorn north of Mali and wants the UN Security Council to back humanitarian aid to the area, which has fallen to Tuareg separatists, reportedly allied to the Islamist group.
"We are following the situation in north Mali, which is very unstable, with the greatest vigilance," French foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Bernard Valéro said Wednesday.
As three leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) are reported to have arrived in Timbuktu, Paris is "worried by the growing importance of Aqim and its allies", he said.
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppé raised his fear that some Tuareg rebels might ally with Aqim to take over the whole country "in order to create an Islamist republic".
The UN Security Council is to make a statement Wednesday on the situation and Valéro called on it to back the Ecowas group of west African states' mediation with coup leaders in Bamako and support humanitarian aid to the north.
On Tuesday France's UN ambassador Gérard Araud said that he had won agreement in principle on a declaration, which would support Ecowas, call for the end of rebellion in the north and call on "the international community to mobilise against terrorism in Mali".
The European Union on Wednesday called for a ceasefire in the north.
Residents of Timbuktu told reporters by phone that the Islamists have forced women to cover their hair, threatened to cut off thieves' hands and ransacked bars.
The military junta in Bamako claimed that "serious rights violations" were taking place in another northern city, Gao, accusing the insurgents of kidnapping and raping girls.
The elected MP for the area, Abdou Sidibé, confirmed that it was under the control of several groups, including an Aqim splinter group, the Movement for Unity and Jihad In West Africa (Mujao) and traffickers.