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Obasanjo Urges Parties in Divided Ivory Coast to Negotiate

  • Nico Colombant

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has appealed to all parties in divided Ivory Coast to resolve their differences. He also called for an examination of mediation efforts by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki.

Mr. Obasanjo's comments came during a meeting with the head of the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast, Pierre Schori, late Monday in Abuja, on the third anniversary of the Ivorian conflict. It was not clear whether he is looking for a new mediator in Ivory Coast to replace South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki.

Mr. Mbeki has been brokering the peace process since an escalation of violence in November 2004. His efforts have been praised by the Ivory Coast presidential team, but were rejected by rebels as biased.

It is now clear new elections scheduled for October 30 will not take place, as preparations on who will be able to vote haven't started while rebels are refusing to disarm.

Diplomats in the region say Mr. Obasanjo, who is currently head of the African Union, could organize a regional summit on Ivory Coast before the end of the month to discuss a new timetable for disarmament as well as implementing political reforms. The reforms already signed into law allow more northerners to become Ivorians and be able to vote.

But a member of the Ivory Coast presidential communications team, Lambert Sery Bailly, is opposed to the idea of having another summit.

"If the African Union and the international community opt for this solution it would be a waste of time and it would be again playing politics and being remote-controlled by our external powers," he said. "We don't have time to organize a big summit on Cote d'Ivoire, where there will be a big show and nothing really will come. Mbeki has done a professional and methodological job. He's the only person, the only mediator who came to Cote d'Ivoire and spent four days here. So he met all the parties, he made a very intelligent contribution and that contribution should not be rewarded with a new mediator."

Instead of a regional summit, President Laurent Gbagbo has suggested a meeting of Ivorian political leaders in the administrative capital Yamoussoukro on establishing a new date for elections.

Mr. Bailly says it is time for Ivory Coast to return to peace.

"Instead of playing politics and trying to capitalize on the situation, it is high time that we all pull together and try to end these discussions, reunify the country, go to the elections and then vote for a new president and then bring definitely peace in the country," he said.

The South African government has endorsed this position and said elections should be held soon.

But rebels and opposition leaders say they want President Gbagbo out of office. The rebels also say a new mediator should be appointed to help set up a transitional government.

The spokesman for the New Forces rebels, Sidiki Konate, says Ivory Coast must look for new solutions.

"We have now to find a new solution by talking about the transition and we are about to hold discussions now which will be about the transition question in Ivory Coast so that the New Forces could make the proposition about a good and secure transition which can lead us to secure and democratic elections in Ivory Coast," he said.

Rebel leader Guillaume Soro has been meeting with leaders throughout West Africa to drum up support for the New Forces' position.

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