Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, left, talks with Ivory Coast Prime Minister Ake N'gbo at the airport in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Nairobi/Abidjan, Ivory Coast - The threat of regional military action was not enough to persuade Ivory Coast's defiant leader Laurent Gbagbo to step aside during a visit by a delegation of West African leaders.

The world recognises Alassane Ouattara as the winner of last month's presidential election but Gbagbo is using the military to stay in office, sparking unrest that has claimed at least 173 lives.

The leaders of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde left the economic capital Abidjan late on Tuesday saying more talks were needed after delivering a message from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) telling Gbagbo to step down or face military intervention.

The regional bloc on Friday warned that if Gbagbo does not quit, it would “take other measures, including the use of legitimate force, to achieve the goals of the Ivorian people.”

Benin's Thomas Boni Yayi, Sierra Leone's Ernest Bai Koroma and Cape Verde's Pedro Pires were to report back to Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan, the chairman of ECOWAS, who is expected to set a date for new talks.

Gbagbo was not expected to heed the call from ECOWAS, as his camp has already warned against outside interference.

The defiant leader has brushed off huge international pressure, including travel bans from the European Union and the United States, as well as a World Bank aid freeze and the cutting off of access to public funds by West Africa's central bank.

The African Union, which has suspended Ivory Coast, has appointed Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga to as its mediator. Odinga was appointed in 2008 as part of a power-sharing deal that ended months of deadly election-related violence in Kenya, and recently said Gbagbo should be removed by force if necessary.

Gbagbo is still firmly embedded in office, however, and the military, which the UN accuses of extrajudicial killings and abductions, remains in control of Abidjan.

Ouattara is trying to run an alternative government from the UN-protected Golf Hotel in Abidjan, but Gbagbo holds all the instruments of power.

Attacks on international peacekeepers appear to be on the rise after the UN mission there ignored Gbagbo's order to leave.

One peacekeeper was wounded and a vehicle burnt after a convoy of three vehicles from the UN Operation in Cote d'Ivoire was attacked by a crowd on Tuesday in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Yopougon.

Last month's elections were aimed at healing the divisions left over from a 2002 civil war that split the country into the mainly Muslim north, which backs Ouattara, and Christian south, where Gbagbo holds sway.

However, the polls only highlighted north-south divisions after a Gbagbo ally on the constitutional council overturned electoral commission results handing victory to Ouattara.

According to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, more than 19 000 Ivorians have fled the country, fearing a return to civil war. -