Thursday, 10 March 2011

Gbagbo camp rejects Ivorian plan, warns of war

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan. File Picture.
A woman carrying her child runs past burning tyres on a street of Abidjan

Envoys of Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo rejected an African Union proposal to end a violent power struggle and warned that the West African country now risked a return to civil war.

Rebels based in the north of the country who back his rival, Alassane Ouattara, immediately reaffirmed their position that only military force would persuade Gbagbo to step down.
The AU talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa were seen by many as a last chance to broker a compromise after a disputed November election triggered violence killing hundreds, and from which around half a million Ivorians have fled their homes.
Gbagbo argues that U.N.-certified results showing he lost to Ouattara were rigged. His aides said they could not accept a proposal put forward by an AU panel which was based around an endorsement of Ouattara as elected president.
“The panel is incapable of giving us any argument that would justify this decision,” Pascal Affi N’Guessan, leader of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front, told reporters at the talks.
“If this initiative doesn’t come out with irrefutable and pertinent propositions, we fear that the AU, somehow, will contribute to what the rebels started in 2002,” he said of a 2002-2003 civil war that split the country in two.
“We have invited the panel to reconsider its position,” he told reporters through a translator. N’Guessan did not give details of the AU proposal but sources at the talks said it had suggested a unity government headed by Ouattara.
New Forces rebels who still control northern Ivory Coast after the previous conflict said they were not surprised by the outcome.
“The New Forces (FN) always knew Laurent Gbagbo would never agree to quit power ... by the diplomatic route. That is why the New Forces see no other option but force to make him leave,” FN political spokesman Sekonga Felicien said.
The three-month crisis in the world’s top cocoa grower has pushed futures of the commodity through three-decade highs as international sanctions and Ouattara’s appeal for a suspension of exports have together strangled supplies to world markets.
While a descent into civil war would make supplies yet more scarce, cocoa futures in New York fell a sharp 5,6% on Thursday (CCc2) in what traders said was a response to technical factors, underlining the market’s volatility.
Ouattara, who has the backing of the AU, United Nations, European Union and the United States, attended the Addis meeting in person and was expected to give a news conference later.
Ahead of the talks, US President Barack Obama said he was appalled by recent “indiscriminate killing” of unarmed civilians in Ivory Coast and said it was time for Gbagbo to step down.
“Former President Gbagbo’s efforts to hold on to power at the expense of his own country are an assault on the universal rights of his people, and the democracy that the Cote d’Ivoire deserves,” Obama said in a statement.
Close to 400 people have already been killed, according to U.N. and other estimates, although Abidjan-based diplomats believe the real toll could be much higher.
Thousands of women marched through Abidjan on Tuesday calling for Gbagbo to step down. Witnesses said security forces shot four people dead near the scene of one march, which came a week after witnesses said Gbagbo’s forces shot dead seven women at a similar all-female march in a pro-Ouattara district.
The future now looks bleak for the region’s former economic star, whose troubles over the past decade have their root in an unresolved dispute over who is Ivorian and the treatment of the many immigrants from the region there to farm its fertile soil.
The New Forces have declared their backing for Ouattara, who is reviled by many Gbagbo allies because of his Burkinabe parentage, and have in past weeks already seized a string of towns in the west from Gbagbo forces.
Aid agencies said this week a total 450,000 Ivorians have been uprooted by the conflict, with 70,000 having crossed into neighbouring Liberia where refugee camps are already filled to overflowing. Latest UN estimates put the figure at 90,000.

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