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January 03, 2011

US: Ivory Coast Leader Has Little Time Left for 'Dignified' Departure

The United States said Tuesday that the opportunity for a dignified departure from Ivory Coast for defeated President Laurent Gbagbo is "closing fast." The State Department said there should be no power-sharing deal between Mr. Gbagbo and the internationally-recognized winner of the November election Allassane Ouattara.

Officials here confirm that the United States is willing to consider giving refuge to Mr. Gbagbo as a way of helping resolve the political crisis in Ivory Coast.

However, they say the longer the standoff goes on, and as casualties from violence attributed to Gbagbo supporters continue to mount, the harder it will be for the besieged leader to arrange a "dignified" departure from the country.

The comments here followed a visit to Abidjan by leaders of the African Union and West African regional grouping ECOWAS that ended Monday without a hoped-for agreement under which Mr. Gbagbo would cede power to election winner Ouattara.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the Obama administration "signaled" to Mr. Gbagbo after the November 28 election that the United States was willing to consider giving him refuge, and that other countries have done the same.

But he said the defeated president has thus far given no indication that he would accept such an offer, and said that subsequent violence against Mr. Ouattara's supporters and others has made a face-saving departure more difficult.

"Nothing is preventing President Gbagbo from leaving Cote D'Ivoire [Ivory Coast]," said Crowley.  "And as we've said, we don't know where he might go. But we believe at this point it's important for him to leave soon. And the opportunity for him to leave with a dignified exit is an opportunity that is… that window is closing fast."

The United Nations says nearly 180 people have been killed in post-election violence in Ivory Coast, though it has been unable to confirm the casualty toll because of attacks on its own personnel.

Spokesman Crowley indicated that if he does accept a foreign refuge, Mr. Gbagbo might face prosecution for the violence.

He said leaders are responsible for the security of their country and safety of their people, and that where there have been human rights abuses, they should be held accountable.

Mr. Gbagbo told the ECOWAS and African Union leaders he is open to further talks over the post-election stalemate.  

But Crowley said the results of the election were clear - a victory for Mr. Ouattara - and that no resolution should include a power-sharing arrangement.

A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters said member of Mr. Gbagbo's family are currently in the United States, and that the offer to consider refuge for the defeated president came in the immediate aftermath of the election.

He said the offer has not been taken off the table but that the longer the crisis goes on, the more difficult the issue becomes.