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Top UN Official Deplores Lack of Political Will in Ivory Coast

The United Nations top elections supervisor in Ivory Coast has criticized the country's leaders for not wanting to move the peace process forward.

If nothing changes, Ivory Coast will be a war-divided country without a peace plan in less than a month.

The United Nations election chief in Ivory Coast, Gérard Stoudman, on Monday deplored the lack of political will displayed by the various opposing parties.

He insisted the Ivorian political elite must take charge of their crisis.

"We are here in Ivory Coast in a situation where the Ivorians are in the drivers seat, not the U.N. It is too easy to say 'oh the U.N., oh the international community did or didn't do that,'" Stoudman says.

Over the weekend, President Laurent Gbagbo had again slammed the international community and U.N. for wanting to impose a peace plan on Ivory Coast. He has repeatedly criticized mediators for what he calls the cavalier way in which they treat Ivory Coast. Most recently, Mr. Gbagbo said the 11,000 U.N. and French peacekeepers who control a buffer zone between the rebel-held north and the government south were free to leave.

But Stoudman maintained the onus was on Ivorian politicians.

"If they don't agree among themselves there is no reason for them to blame the U.N. or the international community. The problems they are in are their responsibility," Stoudman says. "They are the first and primary responsibles for the situation in this country… the political class. And the political class has been playing with fire for a long time, which has led to the dire situation which we are in today."

The current deadlock between President Gbagbo and rebel New Forces leader Guillaume Soro started early August, when Mr. Gbagbo announced the process to identify millions of potential voters was invalid. Furthermore, he would not step down even if elections were not held as planned by the end of October. Soro retaliated by declaring his soldiers would not disarm until these issues were resolved.

Stoudman argued that ultimately top politicians had little interest in finding a solution.

"The status quo has many advantages for more than one actor. Very often I have the feeling that this is the core problem. Moving forward means taking some risks," Stoudman says. "Many do not want to take these risks. Obviously, one has to ask the question, those who have managed quite well over the last years in the present setting, why would they like to move and to take the risk and what is going to happen to them afterwards should they by any chance not be the winner."

Instead, he indicated, most political advances made by political groups were insincere.

"There are too many games being played by this or that side. All the time somebody is playing some sort of game. Therefore political will is certainly what is missing most in this environment," Stoudman says.

Despite having failed to organize elections and disarmament, the U.N. Ivory Coast mission was not a total failure, Stoudman pointed out.

"One has to see that the war did not start again and the peace has been preserved and therefore hundreds if not thousands of lives have been spared and a lot of misery has been avoided thanks to the fact that the country has not gone back to war," Stoudman says.

Mr. Gbagbo won disputed elections in 2000. A brief civil war broke out when a coup attempt failed in September 2002, and the rebel New Forces have occupied the north ever since.

The international community extended Mr. Gbagbo's mandate for a year last October in the hope elections could be organized. ECOWAS, the African Union and the U.N. Security Council will be discussing Ivory Coast's situation in the upcoming weeks.