The Economic community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Friday declared itself ready to speed up the deployment of soldiers to Mali, where French and Malian troops are fighting armed Islamic extremists.
"The war that is now imposed on us by the refusal of the criminal and terrorist movements to accept the peace offer taken sufficiently far by ECOWAS mediation means that we must speed up the deployment of MISMA (the International Mission for Mali Assistance)," ECOWAS commission chairman Desire Kadre Ouedraogo said in a speech handed to the media in Abidjan.
Ouedraogo was speaking at the start of a meeting of regional foreign and defence ministers taking place in Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan ahead of a special summit of ECOWAS heads of state and government on the crisis in Mali, due to take place on Saturday.
Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will take part.
"The escalation of these past few days heightens our need to take on our share of responsibility, very swiftly and in ... coordination with our partners," said Ivory Coast's Foreign Minister Charles Diby Koffi, whose country currently chairs the 15-nation ECOWAS.
Saturday's summit will take place a week after the start of French military operations in Mali to help crack down on the Islamic extremist movements which have occupied the desert north of the country in the past 10 months.
ECOWAS nations have long proposed to send 3,300 troops to help reclaim northern Mali. However, the intervention was stalled by divergences before the operation won backing from the UN Security Council in December.
When Al Qaeda-linked Islamists advanced to attack key central towns this month and France intervened, several west African nations announced that they were ready to send troop contingents.
More than 1,400 French soldiers are currently deployed in Mali, with combat planes and helicopters.
About 100 Nigerian and Togolese soldiers, the first contingents of MISMA, arrived on Thursday night in Mali's capital Bamako. Some 2,000 members of the Nigerian-led force are due to be deployed by January 26.