LONDON — Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara is making a renewed push for U.N.-backed military intervention in Mali, to stem the advance by Islamist rebel forces linked to al Qaeda.
Islamist fighters say they now have full control of the north of Mali. In late June, a fierce battle in the town of Gao drove out the last of their Tuareg rivals, the separatist MNLA.
The Islamist advance has alarmed Mali's neighbors. Among them is Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, chairman of the regional bloc ECOWAS.
In a recent speech at the London-based analyst group Chatham House, Ouattara said African troops could be on the ground within weeks.
"ECOWAS is hoping that the U.N. will soon approve a resolution for the deployment of ground forces in Mali to preserve the territorial integrity of that country and help us solve the transitional government," Ouattara noted.
The military in Mali has handed power to a civilian-led interim government following a coup in March.
Interim president Dioncounda Traore returned to Mali this week. Traore had fled after being beaten by coup supporters.
Ivorian President Ouattara said it is the responsibility of the international community to back democracy in Mali.
"Events in Mali are side effects of the intervention in Libya," said Ouattara. "Examples such as this point to a clear need for a global solution to the problem of trans-border terrorism."
But Chatham House's West Africa analyst, Paul Melly, says northern Mali cannot be re-conquered with purely military means.
"A lot of this is going to have to happen through negotiation. We're talking about a huge region, possibly half the size of Western Europe, with a small number of very heavily armed and very determined hard-line Jihadist fighters currently in control," Melly noted.
The Ivorian president has problems within his country's own borders. Ouattara came to power in May, 2011 after his supporters fought a violent six-month battle against rivals loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to recognise the election results.
Efforts at reconciliation have stalled. The president blames his rivals.
"Violence will not help, and we don't want violence," said Ouattara. "And we are now in democratic regimes, so coup d'états are over. So staying out of the democratic and legal process is really, I think, a big mistake."
Outside the venue in London protestors and supporters of Ouattara staged rival demonstrations.
Analysts say the depth of feeling is an indication of the task the president faces in trying to reunite his own country.