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More and More Mediators Getting Involved in Ivory Coast Peace Efforts


Mediators are coming from many different directions to help divided Ivory Coast, confusing many as to who is in charge and what exactly is being mediated.

The recent selection of a new African Union head, Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, added a new face to mediation efforts in Ivory Coast.

He immediately held a meeting with Ivorian transitional Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny. Mr. Banny said he had been given assurances the Congolese president would take the lead in Ivorian mediation.

These efforts have recently been mired in confusion.

When he was still the head of the African Union, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo arrived in Abidjan last month to defuse tensions amid protests against the United Nations.

He said it was up to Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and Mr. Banny to decide together whether parliament should be disbanded. It was a recommendation by an international working group that parliament be suspended which caused the fury on the streets.

Several days later, Mr. Gbagbo decided, unilaterally, to extend the mandate for parliament - a body which has repeatedly blocked peace reforms.

Mr. Gbagbo's decision sparked condemnation from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

But the leader of the pro-Gbagbo Young Patriots, who led the protests, Charles Ble Goude, accuses Mr. Annan of being manipulated by western powers.

He says he hopes the new AU head will avoid this.

"I don't know deeply Mr. Sassou-Nguesso who has been newly elected as African Union president, so I can't say anything about him, but what I can say about him is to be strong, to deal with African affairs in African manners - reconciliation, bringing people together and not taking orders from outside," said Goude.

This week, a South African delegation has been in Ivory Coast for its own mediation effort. The head of the group, South Africa's defense minister, says the parliament issue has been resolved, even though only the Ivorian presidential camp agrees.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been a special mediator for Ivory Coast since late 2004. He has angered the opposition and rebels who accuse him of bias toward Mr. Gbagbo, making his current role vague.

An opposition youth leader, Ble Guirao, says he feels Mr. Mbeki only defends Mr. Gbagbo.

He says he hopes Mr. Sassou-Nguesso will not fall into the same trap and that he will try to understand why rebels hold the north and refuse to disarm.

But those close to Mr. Gbagbo say the Congolese president is too close to the French. And, they say their struggle is for total independence from France.

Adding to the confusion over who is a mediator in this conflict are statements that Mr. Obasanjo will continue his peace efforts, as part of the role the West African body ECOWAS is trying to play.

The head of the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast, says it is understandable everyone is trying to help, including the African Union.

"The African Union being a newborn baby, almost, it is still trying to prevent conflict in a very forceful way. So, I understand it," he said. "The reason for it is that here in Cote d'Ivoire [it] is very much the economic engine and powerhouse where many foreigners from the region are working and studying. It's all interlinked. What is happening here is of great concern and has implications for the neighboring countries and therefore they are intertwining in different forms."

"First it was the regional organization ECOWAS, then the African Union who took over the issue of the Cote d'Ivoire crisis and then passed it on to the Security Council," continued Schori. "So, here you have regional organizations taking a primary role and then the U.N. comes in and kind of tries to wrap it up. But you need all of them."

Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Banny, with the help of the mediators and the United Nations, are supposed to organize disarmament and elections before October. Supporters of Mr. Gbagbo now say this transition period should be extended at least one extra year. Mediators have yet to weigh in on that suggestion.