— High-level delegations from the United Nations, West African bloc ECOWAS, and the African and European Unions meet with Malian leaders Friday to hammer out details for proposed military intervention to retake Mali's north.
In Mali's capital city of Bamako Men gather every morning at roadside newspaper vendors to debate the headlines, more specifically, what to do about the north dominates discussion.
The territory fell to al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants in April amid the chaos that followed a March 22 coup in the south.
Mali Military Intervention Support Growing
As the crisis drags on, hopes for a negotiated solution appear to be fading. What was once fierce resistance to the prospect of foreign troops in Mali appears to be waning.
Many in Bamako say they worry that Mali's army is still too disorganized and poorly equipped to take back the region alone.
Bamako resident Moussa Cisse says the Malian military needs training. It is disorganized at this moment and needs the help of ECOWAS, but only with training. He says then Mali can liberate the north by itself.
But hundreds of Malians marched in Bamako against the idea of ECOWAS military deployment. The protest was organized by COPAM, a coalition backing the junta that toppled the government. The coalition has objected to ECOWAS involvement in Mali since the coup and has staged regular demonstrations.
It was hard not to compare the turnout to the thousands of people who marched last week in support of ECOWAS troops coming to Mali.
Local analysts say those who oppose foreign assistance are being marginalized within the interim government, which appears to be increasingly independent from coup leaders.
Attitudes are also shifting in the North, not just about foreign military assistance, but also about the idea of an offensive.
VOA spoke over the phone with residents of occupied northern towns who asked not to be named for fear of being targeted by Islamist militants.
One resident of Gao said he believes that the time for negotiations has passed, after months of living under harsh Islamist rule.
He says military intervention is necessary. Mali has negotiated with armed groups in the past, he says, but the problems always come back a few years later and this time is different. He says the population has "had enough" and it is time for war in order to "clear the path." He says there is nothing to negotiate, because the Islamists want Sharia or nothing.
A resident of Timbuktu now living in Bamako echoed these sentiments, arguing his friends and family who stayed behind all support military action.
The people in the north are suffering, he says, and when they heard about a possible military intervention by ECOWAS, he says everyone was happy. He says Mali is a secular country and there cannot be Sharia law because Malians live together, whether one is Christian, animist or Muslim.
The U.N. refugee agency says at least 450,000 northerners have fled into neighboring countries or into the government-held south since the start of the year.
A recent report by the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights cited many human rights abuses committed by Islamists in the north, including amputations, recruitment of child soldiers and "enforced marriages that are a smokescreen for enforced prostitution." Smoking and music are banned, and in many towns women are forced to wear a veil and are forbidden from interacting with men in public.
Amid these reports, many Malians appear to be reaching the conclusion this crisis is fundamentally different from past rebellions, in which secular, ethnic Tuareg separatists sought greater autonomy and independence for the region.
But there continues to be a broad mix of opinions regarding how a military intervention should be carried out. Many Malians who support military intervention say they fear that a hastily-planned, poorly-executed military campaign, by either the army or a regional force, would just make the crisis worse.