The African Union has named five heads of state to work toward resolution of Ivory Coast's political crisis. The African Union says it expects the panel to complete its work within one month.
The leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, South Africa and Tanzania will work alongside the current head of the African Union and the leader of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS.
The panel is expected to come up with a legally-binding resolution to the political crisis between Ivory Coast's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and the United-Nations-certified winner of November's vote, former prime minister Alassane Ouattara.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz chairs the African Union's Peace and Security Council.
President Aziz says the only way to find an African solution to an African problem is through African wisdom, culture and values. He says the African Union panel will solve the crisis in such a way as to preserve democracy and peace. The president says its work will be concluded in less than one month and its conclusions will be binding on all Ivorians.
The panel's deadline and its presumption that its decision will be followed in Ivory Coast may be difficult to deliver given the failure of past mediation and divisions among African leaders themselves about the best way forward.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is on the panel as the head of ECOWAS. He is threatening military action to remove Gbagbo because ECOWAS says Ouattara is the country's duly-elected president.
South African President Jacob Zuma is on the panel. He says African Union mediators must take into account Mr. Gbagbo's concerns about the fairness of the vote. Gbagbo's claim to re-election is based on the constitutional counsel annulling as fraudulent nearly ten percent of all ballots cast.
African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping says they decided on the panel because leaders were divided about the use of force.
"You know the situation in Cote D'Ivoire, if you use force today, it will be a chaos and killings," he said. "So, we are going to use all the means to arrive to the same result, preserve democracy. I am confident that we will succeed more than the use of force."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says he strongly opposes any effort to re-examine the results of the election because they have already been confirmed by the electoral commission and validated by the U.N. as part of an Ivorian peace plan. At the African Union summit in Ethiopia, Ban again called on Mr. Gbagbo to leave power.
"The current stalemate is not acceptable, the longer it persists the greater the risks," he said. "I welcome African Union decision to tackle this problem within a month through the work of the high level panel. The United Nations stands ready to work as close as possible with this panel."
The head of Gbagbo's political youth wing says the United Nations improperly influenced African Union leaders to reject a recount. In a written statement, Charles Ble Goude said Ban has the singular goal of making Mr. Ouattara Ivory Coast's president.
Gbagbo's government says African Union mediator Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga is no longer welcome in Ivory Coast because they say he too favors Ouattara. Odinga says a negotiated settlement should not include a power-sharing agreement because that would undermine the credibility of Ivorian democracy.
"Africa will never have a stable political base unless we internalize the democratic culture of ceding power after losing in a competitive electoral process," said Odinga. "If one's vote does not count in determining who will lead a nation, which is the most elemental dimension of democracy, elections will become meaningless, democracy will lose its luster, and the future will be riddled with widespread unrest and instability."
The president of the ECOWAS commission says the African Union panel is meant to find a peaceful way to remove Mr. Gbagbo and is in no way meant to legitimize him. That, ECOWAS leaders say, is out of the question.