"We're in this period of stagnation, effectively a stalemate in the north," said Gregory Mann, a history professor at Columbia University who specializes in Mali. "Some form of outside intervention is probably both undesirable, inevitable and necessary."
Mali's transitional government has accepted in theory the prospect of the regional military intervention, though those involved in the discussions suggest there is a reluctance to allow foreign troops in Mali's capital in the south.
There has been nominal progress toward restoring democracy after the military coup but there is no clear path for holding fresh elections. The possibility of national elections being held within six months is "extremely slim," according to the International Crisis Group.
"All scenarios are still possible, including another military coup and social unrest in the capital, which risk undermining the transitional institutions and creating an even more explosive situation," said said Gilles Yabi, West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.
Calls for an ECOWAS regional intervention have prompted protests in Mali's capital in recent weeks, though others have marched in favor of an ECOWAS mission.
Korotoumou Diakite, a 22-year-old student who took part in the pro-intervention march in Bamako this week, said: "I have faith that ECOWAS and the international community so that Mali remains one and indivisible."
Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali contributed to this report.
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