The international community considers Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo the loser of a recent election [AFP]

West African armies are ready to oust embattled Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo by force, a Nigerian general has said.

General Olusegun Petinrin, speaking after a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Thursday, said regional military leaders were waiting for orders.

"We are ready on the military level. It is up to the heads of state to give us instructions," he said, according to the AFP news agency.

Gbagbo has maintained his grip on the Cote d'Ivoire in the face of a November 28 presidential election that, by almost all accounts, he lost.

The country's own election commission, the United Nations, and a host of other countries all say that challenger Alassane Ouattara won the election. But Gbagbo has used his military to blockade Ouattara and his aides inside the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, the country's main city, with UN peacekeepers maintaining a shaky truce.

Another military source who spoke with AFP at the ECOWAS meeting, which was held in the Malian capital of Bamako, said "if the [heads of state] tell us to go to the Ivory Coast, we will go."

Gbagbo's window is closing

The United Nations has deployed around 9,500 troops to the Cote d'Ivoire, and the Security Council unanimously agreed to send some 2,000 more on Wednesday.

It may be tough to dislodge Gbagbo without military force: The leader has so far refused to give up, despite threats of armed action, mediation efforts by several African leaders - including Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga - and the freezing of much of the government's funds in international bank accounts.

The United Nations has reported more than 200 deaths related to post-election violence, and Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, has said his peacekeepers face an "openly hostile security environment."

Alcide Djedje, Gbagbo's foreign minister, told a news conference on Wednesday that Gbagbo will no longer receive Odinga, because he "took the side" of Ouattara. Odinga, meanwhile, said that Gbagbo's "amnesty window" is closing. 

Source: Agencies