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ECOWAS: Ivory Coast Summit

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meet today – Friday - in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to see how they can move the stalled Ivory Coast peace process forward. The meeting comes at a time that the New Forces rebels who control the northern part of the country are demanding the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo and a new transitional government. Mohamed Ibn Chambas is the ECOWAS executive secretary. From the Nigerian capital, Abuja, he tells VOA English to Africa reporter James Butty that Friday’s regional summit is very crucial.

“We are at the crossroads in Cote d’Ivoire. Exactly one year after the transition period which started after the expiration of the mandate of President Gbagbo, we find ourselves in a situation where elections cannot be held before the end of October. Therefore we will regroup and figure out the way forward, and that’s what the heads of state of ECOWAS will be doing.”

On the northern rebels demand that President Gbagbo be removed and a new transitional government formed, Chambas says the ECOWAS leaders are opened to any suggestion.

“We have to think of a process that involves all the Ivorian parties in a more constructive and in a more serious way to get to elections. So certainly all the proposals that have been made would be considered. But I believe that the way forward is to find the way that we engage all the parties and make them, this time around, do what is required of them.”

Chambas says elections in the Ivory Coast that were scheduled for the end of October cannot be held because all the things that needed to be done to make those elections possible have not been done.

“We don’t have at this point citizens identification; voters registration has not taken place; the country remains divided; disarmament has not taken place. So a lot needs to be done yet, and the summit meeting, the heads of state need to come up now with the arrangement and the safeguards which would ensure this time around that the task that we assign to the government can be carried out without hindrance.”

Chambas says Ivorians can draw an important lesson from the transitional processes during Liberia’s 14-year civil war.

“To ensure transparent, credible elections, that process of preparation for the elections should be managed by persons who do not have a stake in the elections themselves. And that’s what the rationale was for selecting a prime minister who will not be a candidate in the elections at the end of the transition.”

Chambas says the credibility of ECOWAS, the African Union, and the United Nations is at stake with the Abuja summit. He says at the end of the meeting ECOWAS will make recommendations to the African Union Peace and Security Council which would then present them to the United Nations for a new Security Council resolution to govern the new transitional process in the Ivory Coast.

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