Non-African troops could play a role in ousting Islamic radicals from northern Mali, if African leaders agree to such a plan, experts finalising details for the military intervention said today.
"If African heads of state agree, there will be non-African troops on the ground to help Mali win back its territory," an African official taking part in the meeting of international experts told AFP on the last day of the conference.
The official who spoke on condition of anonymity did not elaborate on where the troops would come from.
He said that the number of troops sent into Mali by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) "could reach 4,000 instead of the planned 3,000" and would be spread throughout the country.
He said delegates from Algeria had agreed not to give up the struggle against armed Islamists who are backed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Algeria, with its superior military, counter-terrorism and intelligence capabilities, is seen as key to any military operation but has been hesitant to get involved.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the west African heavyweight last week to lobby for support in ousting the extremists who western powers fear may turn the vast desert zone into a haven for terrorists.
They have already implemented a strict version of Islamic law, stoning and whipping transgressors, and have destroyed "idolatrous" ancient cultural treasures.
The Bamako conference was attended by experts from ECOWAS, the European Union, African Union, United Nations and Algeria, who are helping Mali draw up a plan to be presented to the UN on November 26.
Another delegate told AFP that the UN is expected to finance the bulk of the military operation.
West African leaders will meet in Abuja, Nigeria, on an as yet undecided date, to approve the plan.
As plans to intervene militarily take shape, one of the armed Islamist groups Ansar Dine is in Burkina Faso's capital for peace talks. Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore will meet the delegation on Tuesday.
Mediators are trying to get Ansar Dine to break ties with AQIM.