DAKAR // Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigeria president, said that regional troops would definitely intervene in Islamist-occupied northern Mali if negotiations with Islamist militants failed to yield a solution.
The regional bloc "ECOWAS will definitely intervene militarily [but] first and foremost we are negotiating", said Mr Jonathan, who was on a 24-hour visit to Senegal, after talks with President Macky Sall.
He said regional leaders were focusing on stabilising an interim government in Bamako, which was shaken up on Monday to form a wider unity government after a March 22 coup plunged the nation into crisis.
The option of a military intervention from a 3,300-strong Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) standby force has been on the table for months but "very little" has been done to implement this, Mali's Defence Minister Yamoussa Camara said.
ECOWAS ordered interim authorities to form the unity government in the hopes it would be better able to deal with the country's crises, and make an official request for military backup from the regional troops.
Mali's army chief of staff Ibrahima Dembele has said the Malian army — which is sorely in need of training and equipment — will play the lead role in ejecting militants.
"No one will fight this war in place of Mali, but the others will provide support, above all in the air and in logistics," he said on Tuesday.
The UN has asked for more information on the size, means and plans of the proposed force before granting it a mandate.
The newly formed government has said winning back the north is its top priority and ECOWAS urged it to swiftly organise elections and re-establish "territorial integrity".
Once one of the region's most stable democracies, Mali has been gripped by turmoil since democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown by the military in March.
The ensuing political chaos allowed Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels to seize control of the vast desert north, an area larger than France, where they have enforced strict sharia law.