UN council extends short force renewal in Ivory Coast

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The Security Council sought to nudge Ivory Coast into holding much-delayed elections soon by extending the mandate of UN peacekeepers there by four months instead of the usual six.

The West African nation that is the world’s top cocoa producer has missed a series of deadlines for a presidential poll originally due in 2005 to resolve divisions that fuelled a 2002-03 civil war that split the country in two.

Ivory Coast authorities, who have blamed technical problems including difficulties in drawing up a voters’ list, now say they aim to stage the vote in late February or early March.

President Laurent Gbagbo, whose mandate expired in 2005, has denied charges that he is delaying the poll.

In a unanimous resolution, the 15-nation council called on Ivory Coast to publish a final voters’ list and announce the official date of the election’s first round.

It extended the mandate of the UN mission UNOCI, which includes just over 8000 troops and police, until May 31 “to support the organization in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) of free, fair, open and transparent elections.”

The polls are seen as vital if Ivory Coast is to reclaim its position as West Africa’s economic hub, lost after the civil war, and reform its cocoa sector, which supplies 40% of the world market.

French push for vote

Among the most vocal advocates of speedy elections in Ivory Coast is former colonial power France. After yesterday’s vote, French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said the shorter than usual mandate renewal was “because it is not business as usual.”
“It has to be understood that the United Nations force is not going to stay indefinitely in Ivory Coast,” Araud told reporters.
“If the elections take place, obviously it will be very simple, there will be a progressive departure of the force, and also a progressive lifting of sanctions,” he said, referring to arms, financial and travel restrictions as well as a ban on trade in rough diamonds from Ivory Coast.
“If the elections do not take place, the Security Council will be obliged to examine the United Nations presence in Ivory Coast and I cannot know what will be its conclusion.”

It would be hard to stage elections in Ivory Coast after May because of the onset of the rainy season, Araud said.

US Ambassador Susan Rice said the election delay was “a source of real concern” for the United States but told reporters conditions for the poll had to be such that all eligible voters could take part.

Thursday’s resolution said the Security Council would hold the Ivorian parties fully accountable for respecting whatever electoral timeline was announced. Diplomats acknowledged, however, that past warnings by the council over the elections had failed to prevent delays.

Source: www.af.reuters.com