Bamako - International experts met in Bamako on Tuesday to firm up plans for an armed intervention to wrest northern Mali from the hands of Islamic radicals, which are to be presented to the UN at the end of November.
"This conference is a meeting of harmonisation which must lead to concrete proposals for the adoption of a strategic plan to liberate the north of our country," Defence Minister Yamoussa Camara said at the start of the week-long meeting.
The conference will discuss the "upgrading" of the Malian army, which is under-equipped and demoralised after its rout at the hands of Tuareg fighters whose separatist rebellion in January triggered the country's rapid implosion.
Angry at the government's handling of the rebellion, a group of soldiers ousted the government in Bamako in March, which allowed the vast north to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists who sidelined their erstwhile Tuareg allies.
"War is inevitable against the terrorists in northern Mali, even if all wars end around the negotiating table," said Camara.
The UN Security Council on 12 October approved a resolution urging the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to speed up preparations for a force of over 3 000 troops that would attempt to help recapture northern Mali.
It gave Ecowas until 26 November to clarify its plans.
Representatives from the west African bloc, the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations are all attending the Bamako conference.
Guinea's former transition leader General Sekouba Konate, who was appointed by the African Union to make the envisaged west African force in Mali operational, will arrive in Bamako on Sunday to take part in talks.
Ecowas representative Abdou Cheick Toure said hope has not been abandoned for a negotiated end to the occupation, and said it "is normal" to talk to the Tuareg separatists and Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith).
"They are Malians. We must see if they agree to come back into the republic, to abandon their secessionist ideas, to make peace and abandon other criminal groups," he said.