African Union in fresh bid to mediate Ivory Coast crisis

AFP, Sunday 16 Jan 2011

AU mediator returns to Abidjan to find a solution to the tense standoff as west African bloc threatens military intervention as a last resort

Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo's supporters, with their bodies painted in the colours of the ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), attend a rally at the Culture Palace in Abidjan (Photo: Reuters)

The African Union's mediator in Ivory Coast's deadly leadership standoff is to return to Abidjan this week for his latest bid to bridge the yawning gap between two increasingly entrenched presidents.

AU mediator and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga flew to Abuja on Sunday to meet the head of west African regional bloc ECOWAS, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, after which he will head to crisis-stricken Abijdan.

The AU and 15-member Economic Community of West African States have struggled to mediate between Ivory Coast's embattled strongman Laurent Gbagbo and the man the world says won a November 28 presidential runoff.

Gbagbo rival Alassane Ouattara has for weeks been holed up in an Abidjan hotel resort, with United Nations peacekeepers and northern ex-rebels protecting his camp from the army which remains loyal to the incumbent.

A cascade of African leaders have shuttled between the two men sworn in as president in recent weeks, with ECOWAS threatening military action as a last resort if Gbagbo refuses to hand over power.

"We want dialogue to begin between the Ouattara camp and president Gbagbo," the incumbent's spokesman Ahoua Don Mello told AFP on Sunday. The two men "know each other, they can sit down and find a solution."

At the besieged Golf Hotel, Ouattara spokeswoman Anne Ouloto repeated the demand that: "He (Gbagbo) must go."

Gbagbo "is not following the logic of peace or of dialogue. We saw this yesterday with the hateful and nasty speech" given by his wife, Simone, in which she called Ouattara a "bandit chief".

Gbagbo's spokesman dismissed the possibility of an ECOWAS military intervention: "The people will not accept external diktats... If Ivorians don't want a head of state, it's the Ivorians who will get rid of him themselves."

Odinga's first trip to Abidjan since being appointed as mediator by the continental body ended on January 5 with little tangible progress after Gbagbo failed to make good on promises that mediators said he made.

The United Nations mission in the country says that Gbagbo's supporters have stepped up their attacks on peacekeepers there, with several UN vehicles torched on Thursday, although Gbagbo's camp has denied involvement.

The UN wants to send up to 2,000 extra peacekeepers to Ivory Coast, but a Security Council vote on the extra troops has been delayed until Tuesday.

ECOWAS defence chiefs are to meet in the Malian capital Bamako from Wednesday for talks focused on how to deal with Ivory Coast's crisis.

Short link: