West African military chiefs met Tuesday to finalise plans for possible intervention to remove Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo from the presidency after he lost a November election.
The officers would work off a report drawn up in December which envisages Nigeria at the head of a military intervention force and foresees the deployment of combat troops and attack helicopters, a participant told AFP.
Gbagbo has refused to hand over to his rival Alassane Ouattara, widely recognised as winner of the 28 November poll, despite mounting pressure and threats of military action.
"Our preparations are very advanced and we are ready to move into action if necessary and that must be clear," senior Nigerian officer Olusegun Petinrin told AFP.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) officers will take an overview of the regional situation at their two-day meeting until Wednesday in the Mali capital with a special session dedicated to Ivory Coast."We are here to draw up a clear plan if we ask militaries to intervene to re-establish democracy in Ivory Coast," one said.
The 15-member ECOWAS suspended Ivory Coast in early December.
Ouattara has been recognised as the poll winner by the Ivory Coast's election authority and the international community; Gbagbo, who has ruled for 10 years, was declared victor by the Constitutional Council.
The officers would work from a report from an extraordinary meeting of ECOWAS military chiefs in Abuja late December, one of the participants told AFP.
The report, a copy of which was seen by AFP, talks of the need for Gbagbo to be removed "from power as soon as possible so the legitimate government can be put in place and start its work".
It also underlines the importance of planning for the possibility of attacks by Ivorian forces against nationals of countries taking part in an intervention force.
For this reason, "an evacuation must precede all action by the intervention force," according to text.
Several million ECOWAS citizens live in the Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa-producing country which remains a regional economic power despite a decade of political crises and violence.
If established, the intervention force would be headed by Nigeria which would also provide the most troops including a combat squadron, attack helicopters, a communications unit and officers in charge, according to the December report.
Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali and Togo are expected to take part to varying degrees, according to the text, with Niger still to confirm its participation.
Ghana has previously ruled out sending troops.
The report also raises the option of deploying special forces and of a naval blockade off the country with the support of international "partners".
A diplomat at the United Nations in New York said recently that for military intervention to have any chance of success, ECOWAS would have to line up about 20,000 troops although it only has about 3,500 at its disposal.
The Bamako meeting kicked off as Kenyan Prime Minister was due to continue a round of talks in Abidjan to persuade Gbagbo to leave peacefully.