Military intervention in Ivory Coast need not trigger civil war, presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara said, as his rival seemed to reverse a pledge to lift a blockade on his headquarters.
Ouattara said he preferred a peaceful solution to his post-election standoff with incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, but dismissed negotiations, telling France 24 television Gbagbo must “leave power to allow Ivory Coast to return to normal”.
Gbagbo has refused to cede power to Ouattara, widely seen as winner of a disputed November 28 election, despite international pressure, sanctions and the threat of force, and he has accused world leaders of meddling in Ivory Coast’s internal affairs, Reuters reports.
Ouattara’s aides have called for a regional West African force to make good on a threat to kick out Gbagbo if he refuses to go, but there are fears it may not be able to attempt such action without getting bogged down in war.
“I think he will be responsible for the situation that he will face. Military intervention does not mean that the Ivory Coast will ignite,” Ouattara said of his rival, from inside the Golf Hotel, where he is under UN protection.
“All that needs to be done, as has been done in other African countries, is to come and get Gbagbo and remove him from the presidential palace.”
Ouattara said an offer this week by Gbagbo to negotiate an end to the crisis was just an attempt to “buy time in order to recruit mercenaries to kill Ivorians and smuggle money out”.
BLOCKADE GOES ON
Ivory Coast security forces on Wednesday maintained a blockade of the Golf Hotel, despite a promise by Gbagbo to ease it.
Gbagbo’s foreign minister Alcide Djedje told a news conference on Wednesday the blockade would not be lifted while the 300 armed rebels loyal to Ouattara remain inside.
“That constitutes a threat for the president. It’s a question of the soldiers of the New Forces (rebels) leaving the hotel as a condition of lifting the blockade,” he said. A heavy military and police presence was still sealing off roads leading to the lagoon-side hotel on Wednesday.
“Mister, don’t try and come through here. Turn your car around and don’t argue,” a soldier wielding an AK-47 said. Only UN helicopters and supply trucks have access.
Gbagbo is backed by his security forces, some Ivorian youth and militia groups, and the Constitutional Council, which overturned Ouattara’s 8-point election win, alleging fraud. He has refused exile in South Africa, Nigeria and the United States. “President Gbagbo doesn’t need to go to Washington. He’s fine where he is and he intends to stay there,” Djedje said.
US Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said on Wednesday he should cede power to Ouattara. “There is no question that the election in the Ivory Coast was stolen by President Gbagbo and those around him,” he said.
After efforts at mediation by four African leaders on Monday, Gbagbo agreed to continue talks to end the crisis. But an end to the standoff seems far off. More than 170 people have been killed since the dispute started, rekindling divisions in the country that have festered since the civil war of 2002-03.
Diplomats and security sources say many of the dead are victims of death squads operating at night in neighbourhoods where Ouattara is popular, and the U.N. says hundreds more have been kidnapped by Ivorian forces and allied militias.
Gbagbo’s camp says these are lies meant to discredit him. Despite the political turmoil, cocoa for export is arriving at Ivory Coast’s ports in similar quantities to last season. Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa grower.
The country’s Eurobond is trading at yield of 15 percent, after it failed to meet an interest payment on Friday, although it will only be in default after a month’s grace period. In a statement on Wednesday, the UN mission condemned what it called human rights violations, including a raid by security forces on Ouattara’s party headquarters on Tuesday.
That raid killed an activist and left many people wounded, including some security forces, according to state media.