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Ivory Coast Opposition Calls for Gbagbo's Arrest, Ambassador Seeks Understanding

  • Nico Colombant

The Ivory Coast ambassador in the United States serving for controversial President Laurent Gbagbo says the international community has rushed its judgment on the situation in his divided country. The Ivorian opposition, meanwhile, is calling for Mr. Gbagbo's arrest on an international arrest warrant.

After civilians were killed in clashes in Abidjan, and renewed fighting took place Thursday between rebels and soldiers in the southern commercial capital as well as in the center of the country, the Ivory Coast ambassador in the United States, Charles Koffi, expressed grave concern.

"It is just regrettable the situation in which we are," said Ambassador Koffi. "I do not think anyone in Cote d'Ivoire wished to come to this situation."

A U.N-funded election supposed to end the country's eight-year division has instead exacerbated tensions.

Election results from a second round run-off November 28 issued by the Ivory Coast election commission and certified by the United Nations gave Mr. Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Ouattara, a clear victory. But the Ivory Coast constitutional council threw out votes from the rebel-held north and certified Mr. Gbagbo the winner.

Both men have formed rival governments since then, each saying they are the country's only president.

World bodies, regional groupings and governments from most countries, including the United States, have sided with Mr. Ouattara, calling on Mr. Gbagbo to resign. A U.S. official reiterated that stance on Thursday, saying Mr. Gbagbo has a limited time to step down.

This angers Ambassador Koffi who says this stance goes against a speech U.S. President Barack Obama made on a visit to Ghana last year.

"He said what Africa needs is not strong men but strong institutions and if you want to build strong institutions you have to start with abiding by the law, the fundamental law which is the constitution," he said.

Successive peace deals for Ivory Coast brokered by the United Nations and the African Union have continuously conflicted with the Ivory Coast constitution, leaving in doubt whether the constitution or the peace accord takes precedence.

Thursday, the Ivory Coast army blocked former rebels, now based in Abidjan, and militants loyal to Mr. Ouattara from marching on state television, as was their plan.

At times, human rights activists say soldiers shot into crowds of unarmed protesters. Foreign journalists counting dead bodies in the city and Mr. Ouattara's side said at least 30 people had been killed during the violence.

A representative for Mr. Ouattara's party in Washington, Yacouba Kone, called for more international help to oust Mr. Gbagbo.

"We believe that the international community needs to intervene right now because it has been [Mr.] Gbagbo's army which has been killing people around town so it is getting worse," said Kone.

Regional groupings, such as the European Union, have started imposing new sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo's government, but Kone says more is needed.

"Besides economic sanctions, we believe they must send a force there to arrest Laurent Gbagbo, for crimes against humanity," he said.

Earlier Thursday, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said those found responsible of killing people in post-election violence in Ivory Coast would be prosecuted.

Moreno-Ocampo has already indicted another sitting African president, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, but has yet to succeed in having him arrested.

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