A west African summit opened in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Sunday, set to agree a plan for military intervention in northern Mali. In France President François Hollande pledged support for the proposed African military force in the region, currently under the control of armed Islamists.
Ministers from the Ecowas grouping of West African states met in Abuja on Saturday to draw up the plan, which, after approval at the summit, will be sent to the UN Security Council.
Representatives of several neighbouring countries that are not Ecowas members, including Mauritania and Algeria, were also present.
A force of 5,500 soldiers from Ecowas countries and some other African states will be sent to northern Mali, according to proposals.
Ecowas and the African Union had initially proposed a force of just 3,000.
At a Security Council meeting in early October, they were then given a 45 days to draft a military blueprint.
North Mali was taken over by Tuareg rebels in March, who were then sidelined by Islamists who have implemented strict Islamic law in the area.
Speaking to French television during Armistice Day celebrations, Hollande stressed that France and other European powers will not send troops to Mali.
"But we have a duty to be at their side," he added.
On Saturday French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius and Germany's Guido Westerwelle called on the European Union to support "the deployment and engagement of an international force in Mali" in a statement published in Le Figaro newspaper.
Five European defence ministers are to discuss sending a force of 200 trainers at a meeting in Paris on 15 November.
Nine Europeans, six of them French, are currently being held hostage by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the three Islamist groups that control north Mali. Another, Mujao, is holding three Algerians.
Opening the summit, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared that his country "fully supports" the proposed intervention, needed to avoid "costly consequences" Africa.
Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara called for a negotiated solution to the crisis that led to the army seizing power in Mali earlier this year, a move that set off a separatist Tuareg rebellion that led to the Islamist insurgency.
"We believe that there are now signs of positive changes," Ecowas president Kadré Desiré Ouedraogo told RFI. "Regardless of whether they are of a political or security order, it is encouraging to Ecowas."
With Algeria and Tunisia still pressing for more negotiations to try to avoid military intervention, Ouedraogo stressed that Ecowas has always favoured a political solution to the crisis.
"With regards to the organisations or armed groups who have made political demands, Ecowas has always been open to dialogue, so long as the fundamental principles are respected, those being to uphold the country's border, to uphold a united Mali, and to not be involved in terrorist activities.
"Naturally for discussions, all of these conditions have to be met and Ecowas is not ready to discuss or negotiate with a group of terrorists."