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April 05, 2011

US Senator: Obama Administration 'Wrong' on Ivory Coast

by Peter Clottey

A U.S. senator says President Barak Obama’s administration “got it wrong” in its handling of the ongoing crisis in Ivory Coast following violent clashes between rival forces, which has left hundreds dead and tens of thousands fleeing the West African conflict.

In a VOA interview, Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma says the Obama administration is backing the wrong side in the conflict and offered to provide evidence that it was mathematically impossible for Alassane Ouattara to win the disputed November presidential run-off vote over embattled President Laurent Gbagbo.

“I do know that the French have always had pretty much control of the government in the Ivory Coast and that’s just the way the French operate, until President Gbagbo got there and, of course, the French have been running against him ever since that time,” said Inhofe.

“I have shown on the Senate floor how they took the margin of victory that went to Ouattara… what precincts they stole that vote at and how they miscalculated it. How is it statistically possible for the primary election for Gbagbo to have received thousands and thousands of votes in that northern part of Cote d’Ivoire and then, in the run-off, he got zero? Statistically, that is impossible,” he added.

However, Inhofe acknowledges that his concerns about what he calls a “stolen election” have been overtaken by current events. Inhofe, who is also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says France is leading the charge to force Gbagbo to step down and cede power to Ouattara.

“The French have come in and over a thousand people have been killed in Deukoue, a town in the western part, and those were the people who are Gbagbo supporters. So it’s a reign of terror by Ouattara and it’s supported by the French... [I] am afraid I’m losing this one, but somebody has to tell the truth,” Inhofe said.

France has denied the accusation of killing civilians. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says his government is working within the framework of international law, notably U.N. mandates, to protect civilians. He said France has no intention of deploying a more offensive foreign policy.

“Absolutely, they [Obama administration] had it wrong. They are wrong and I have sent letters to the secretary of state and to the administration giving them evidence of the election. It was totally ignored and so I criticized my own administration, as well as the French,” Inhofe added.

The United Nations is investigating reports of massacres in Duekoue, which pro-Ouattara forces seized from Gbagbo troops last week. Both sides have been blamed for hundreds of civilian deaths since post-election violence began last December.

Inhofe also says the United Nations violated its charter by using military force against Gbagbo loyalists.

“They went in and immediately assumed that it was a legitimate election and, yet, we have all the evidence to the contrary. By the way, there are a lot of people in Africa who agree with me,” he said.

The Obama administration says Gbagbo lost a legitimate election judged by poll observers as free and fair. It has repeatedly called on Gbagbo to step down and cede power to Ouattara, who the international community recognizes as winner of last November's election.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Inhofe cited one official regional election return document suggesting Ouattara was credited with more than 90,000 votes beyond what was actually tallied. The Senator asked the administration to change its position and call for a new internationally-monitored vote.

Meanwhile, Ouattara forces launched an assault on Gbagbo’s home Wednesday after he refused to admit electoral defeat and surrender. The forces met strong resistance from pro-Gbagbo troops, despite the fact that most solders from the regular army have laid down their arms.

Witnesses say they heard gunfire and explosions from the compound where Gbagbo, along with members of his family, is believed to be holed up. The fighting died down around midday Wednesday. Witnesses say the Ouattara forces retreated.

Aides to Ouattara say the fighters have been told to capture Gbagbo alive.

A Gbagbo spokesman said U.N. and French forces were involved in the assault, an allegation French officials have denied.