The United Nations Security Council has given West African countries 45 days to come up with a military plan to drive out rebels from northern Mali. African and European leaders are meeting in the capital, Bamako, to work on the details of that plan.

"On the table we've always had dialogue with the separatists in the north and we've always had the possibility of a military intervention. Our position is carrot and stick. Let's see which one works. If the carrot works, fair enough. We save ourselves the trouble of having to deploy troops there …. But if it doesn't work, we believe that there is no option [but] a military intervention if dialogue doesn't work."

- Sunny Ugoh, the director of communications for ECOWAS

There has been intense fighting in northern Mali since April, after army officers deposed the country’s president. Groups linked to al-Qaeda forced out Tuareg rebels in July and took control of the main northern city of Timbuktu.

In August, a national unity government was formed. And this month, the UN Security Council called for military intervention to retake the north.

The UN has said that it will fund part of the military campaign and provide some expertise to African forces. The EU is promising to send military trainers and is even considering participating with some troops. France, which is spearheading the political campaign, says it will assist with logistics. But they all agree that the fighting on the ground should be done by African troops themselves, led by the Malian army.

The conference is, however, expected to renew an offer for a peaceful dialogue with the nationalist Tuareg rebels, in an effort to distance them from other armed groups allegedly linked to al-Qaeda.

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Bamako, says: "People here in Mali are watching these moves with a mixture of hope and fear. Hope to see their nation reunified. And fear that foreign military intervention could turn their country into another Afghanistan."

On Wednesday, the new leader of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, said talks would be held with all the stakeholders. But she did not commit to the use of military force.

So will military force in northern Mali solve the problem or will it only make things worse?

Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses with guests: Alexandre Vautravers, a professor of international relations at Webster University and the editor of the Swiss Military Review; Hidrissa Cherif Haidara, a member of the Mali Community Council in the UK; and Sunny Ugoh, the director of communications for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

"These past few months we have witnessed ... this conflict really going into a regional crisis because many of the neighbouring countries are now really engulfed in it."

Alexandre Vautravers, a professor of international relations

Source: Al Jazeera