Adama Barrow, the Gambian president-elect, has travelled to Mali's capital to meet leaders attending a summit jointly hosted by France in Mali, as uncertainty grows over Gambia's political crisis.
His visit to Bamako came after last-ditch attempts on Friday by a regional mediation team, led by Nigeria's president, Muhammadu Buhari, failed to persuade Gambia's longtime leader Yahya Jammeh to step down.
Jammeh had initially conceded defeat in a December 1 vote, but later reversed his position, lodging a legal case aimed at annulling the result and triggering new elections.
Barrow is scheduled to take office on January 19, but Jammeh has made clear he will not stand aside until the Supreme Court's decision. The ruling is unlikely to happen before May.
In a sign of Barrow's growing international clout, a French diplomatic source told AFP news agency that President Francois Hollande "intends to meet" Barrow, while the former estate agent was due to sit down with West African leaders to discuss his nation's future.
"Barrow's visit was a surprise, and nobody knows if he will really go back again to Gambia," Al Jazeera's Zeinebou Bent Erebih, reporting from the Africa-France summit in Bamako, said.
The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-nation bloc, has repeatedly called on Jammeh to respect the result of the vote and step down after 22 years in power.
ECOWAS has previously said it would stage a military intervention, led by neighbouring Senegal, if Jammeh failed to relinquish power - a move Jammeh has called a "declaration of war".
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"The stakes are extremely high," said Bakary Darbo, former Gambian vice president, explaining that the "military muscle" built by Jammeh is likely to stand by the defiant leader.
"All indications point to a military intervention in the next few days or so," Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris, reporting from Nigeria's capital, Abuja, said.
In coming days, the "focus will be on who will contribute troops now", he added.
"From all indications, [African leaders] could persuade the African Union (AU) and probably go to the United Nations to ensure that democracy and the rights of the people in Gambia are protected."
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, said on Friday that ECOWAS would ask the Security Council to approve the deployment of troops to Gambia, if Jammeh refuses to cede power.
On Friday, the AU said it would cease to recognise Jammeh as Gambia's legitimate president and warned of "serious consequences" if his actions lead to political disorder and the "loss of innocent lives".
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies