BAMAKU - The world's largest Muslim group called Tuesday, January 15, for a ceasefire in Mali, where French troops intervened to fight Islamists in the north of the African country.
We call for an immediate ceasefire in Mali and for all parties to go back to the negotiations which were led by Burkina Faso, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said in a statement.
The OIC chief described the French military offensive in Mali as premature.
We express deep concern over the military escalation, Ihsanoglu said, calling for maximum self-restraint from all parties at this critical time in order to reach a peaceful solution to this conflict.
France launched air strikes in Mali, an OIC member, on Friday to stop the advance of Islamist rebels in the north.
President Francois Hollande said Tuesday French forces had carried out further air strikes overnight which hit their targets", Reuters reported.
"We will continue the deployment of forces on the ground and in the air," Hollande said during a French military base in Abu Dhabi.
"We have 750 troops deployed at the moment and that will keep increasing so that as quickly as possible we can hand over to the Africans."
France plans to field a total 2,500 soldiers in its former colony to bolster the Malian army and work with the intervention force provided by the ECOWAS grouping of West African states.
As French aircraft bombarded mobile columns of Islamist fighters, other insurgents launched a counter-attack further to the south, dislodging government forces from the town of Diabaly, 350 km (220 miles) from Bamako.
French intervention has raised the risk for eight French hostages held by Al-Qaeda allies in the Sahara and for 30,000 French expatriates living in neighboring, mostly Muslim states.
Concerned about reprisals at home, France has tightened security at public buildings and on public transport.
The UN said an estimated 30,000 people had fled the latest fighting in Mali, joining more than 200,000 already displaced.
Mali, once regarded as a fine example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March, leaving a power vacuum in the north that enabled rebels to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.
The French operations against Malian rebels have won support from Western allies.
"We have made a commitment that Al-Qaeda is not going to find anyplace to hide," US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters as he began a visit to Europe.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday welcomed the French-led military intervention in Mali and voiced the hope that it would halt the Islamist assault.
France, which has repeatedly said it has abandoned its role as the policeman of its former African colonies, is among the toughest proponents of a speedier deployment of the African troops, and convened a U.N. Security Council meeting Monday to discuss the crisis.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters after the meeting that the US, Canada, Belgium, Denmark and Germany had also offered logistical support for France's Mali operation.
"I felt that all the members of the Security Council were expressing their support (for) and understanding of the French decision," Araud told reporters.
No Europeans or other African Union members will be allowed in the defense chiefs meeting in Bamako on Tuesday, a western diplomat told Reuters, requesting not to be named.
"They don't want any French pressure at the meeting," the diplomat said.