Deadlock bites in Ivory Coast after African mediation fails


ABUJA – Ivory Coast’s political crisis was deadlocked Tuesday, African mediators said, after the latest diplomatic mission to the country failed to get strongman Laurent Gbagbo to step down as president.
“There is still a stalemate,” Nigerian president and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) head Goodluck Jonathan told reporters after talks with envoys who met Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara on Monday.
Three west African presidents and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga were briefing Jonathan after a day spent shuttling between the bitter rivals, locked in a deadly stand-off since a disputed November 28 presidential run-off. Odinga said that Gbagbo and Ouattara had agreed to meet, but this was categorically denied by the camp of internationally recognised election winner Ouattara, whose camp is besieged by Gbagbo’s troops in an Abidjan hotel.
Jonathan left the debriefing to attend to party business and said he would return to the talks later in the day. “The team is still meeting now. I will come back to meet with them. So we will continue with the discussion but ECOWAS’ position as issued in the communique after our (December 24) meeting still stands,” he said.
The meeting was later adjourned but “may resume” when Jonathan returned, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia told AFP.
ECOWAS agreed at its last summit that Gbagbo must cede power to Ouattara or face military intervention by the regional bloc.
West African regional military chiefs met in Abuja last week and set in motion plans to oust Gbagbo if negotiations fail, according to a Nigerian defence spokesman.
A follow-up meeting to fine-tune the “last-resort” plan is scheduled for Mali on January 17 and 18.
“We are dialoguing,” Jonathan said, stressing that any resolution to the crisis, in which almost 200 people have died and which threatens to plunge Ivory Coast back into civil war, would take time.
“Don’t expect that if there is a major crisis in a country, you just jump in in one week and that matter is resolved. It takes a lot of international pressure to convince people like that,” said Jonathan. Ouattara’s camp denied an earlier claim by Odinga that the rivals were prepared to meet after mediators “broke the ice” in Abidjan, with aide Ali Coulibaly saying the assertion was “completely false”.
After Gbagbo accused former colonial power France of plotting against him, President Nicolas Sarkozy said that France’s 900 troops in the country had no reason to get involved in “the internal affairs of Ivory Coast”. French Defence Minister Alain Juppe said that France’s Licorne mission, bolstering UN peacekeepers, would not “take the initiative” to launch an armed intervention in the presidential crisis, but would defend its nationals there.
Ouattara on Monday appeared to rule out further talks despite the mediation, saying: “For us, the discussions are over.”
With the clock ticking, a senior US State Department official said that Gbagbo, who has relatives in Atlanta, Georgia, could seek refuge there but that the offer would not last long.
“We want to see him leave. If he wishes to come here, we of course would entertain that as a means of resolving the current situation,” the official said, requesting anonymity.