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January 16, 2011

African Union Mediator Returns to Ivory Coast

by Scott Stearns

The African Union mediator to Ivory Coast's political crisis is heading back to the nation's commercial capital, Abidjan, after meeting with the head of the West African alliance that is threatening military force to remove the incumbent president. The internationally-recognized winner of Ivory Coast's vote says the incumbent president is stalling for time to re-arm.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga's return to Abidjan follows talks in Nigeria with President Goodluck Jonathan, who chairs the Economic Community of West African States.

That alliance, which is known as ECOWAS, is threatening to use military force to remove Ivory Coast's incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, if he does not hand over power to the internationally-recognized winner of November's vote, former prime minister Alassane Ouattara.

Mr. Odinga says he returns to Abidjan with an open mind as both the African Union and ECOWAS want a peaceful resolution to the crisis. He says military force is the last resort because it will likely cost the lives of innocent people and disrupt the Ivorian economy.

Mediation by both ECOWAS and the African Union has so far produced no concrete results as Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara both lead competing governments in Abidjan.

African leaders have ruled out a power-sharing agreement because they say Mr. Ouattara is the country's duly-elected president in a vote certified by the United Nations. Mr. Gbagbo says he won re-election when his allies on the constitutional counsel annulled enough Ouattara votes to make Mr. Gbagbo the winner.

Mr. Ouattara told VOA that he believes Mr. Gbagbo is not serious about international mediation and is stalling for time.

"Stalling allows him to import arms, ammunition, and to recruit mercenaries and militia so that he can continue to kill the Ivorian people. I think he thinks it is good for him, but it is very bad for Cote d'Ivoire and the Ivorians," he said.

Mr. Gbagbo's foreign minister, Alcide Djedje, says it is former rebels backing Mr. Ouattara who pose a threat to national security. He says the Gbagbo government will continue its blockade of a resort hotel where Mr. Ouattara is living because 300 heavily-armed rebels can not be allowed to move freely in a neighborhood so close to Mr. Gbagbo's residence.

ECOWAS defense chiefs meet in Mali Wednesday to discuss how best to deal with the crisis in Ivory Coast.