The declaration of an independent homeland in northern Mali by Tuareg rebels has no standing unless their African neighbours recognise their claim, France's Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said Friday.
"A unilateral declaration of independence that was not recognised by African states would have no meaning," Longuet told reporters in Paris, shortly after the Tuareg separatist MNLA force declared an independent "Azawad".
France has urged Mali's military junta to allow a return to constitutional rule, and called for a negotiated peace deal with the rebels, but has also said it remains committed to the territorial integrity of its former colony.
Paris has also expressed concerns that the MNLA, formerly a separatist group, has fallen more and more under the influence of the armed Islamist factions Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
But Longuet said he estimated that AQIM Islamists made up no more than one in ten of the rebel forces. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Thursday that France estimated the total number of rebel troops at around 1,000.
France is backing plans for a 3,000-strong force from the West African bloc ECOWAS to reinforce the Malian government during the crisis, and has promised logistical support if Bamako returns to constitutional rule.