Ivorian leader ‘open to talks’

Gbagbo says he is “ready” to meet rival Ouattara amid UN warning that West African nation could return to civil war.

The disputed president of Cote d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, has said that he is ready to talk to rival Alassane Ouattara, who was recognised by the UN and other international observers as the winner of November 28 presidential runoff poll.

Gbagbo has also invited a panel from the African Union and other countries, including China, Russia and the European Union, to re-examine the results of the polls. However, he has vowed to stay on as president of the West Africa nation, the world’s biggest cocoa producer.

Gbagbo’s demand that the UN and French peacekeeping forces leave the country remains in place, and on Tuesday he said that “the international community has declared war on Ivory Coast”.

However, the UN Security Council has defied this and on Monday extended the mandate for the force – known as UNOCI – for six more months.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has urged French citizens to leave the country if they had the means to do so.

Francois Baroin, a government spokesman, said on Wednesday that the country recommends that its citizens who can leave Cote d’Ivoire do so temporarily, citing “undeniable sources of worry” in the country.

At least 13,000 French people are currently believed to be in Cote d’Ivoire.

World Bank loan freeze

In another significant development, Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, announced in France after a meeting with Sarkozy on Wednesday that the organisation had frozen loans to Cote d’Ivoire. 

The move elicited a strong reaction from Gbagbo’s team, with Yao Gnamiea, his special adviser on diplomatic affairs, calling the World Bank decision unfair.

“This is a political deadlock, not a governance issue, and I strongly believe the decision is unfair, and uninformed,” Gnamiea told Al Jazeera from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire’s commercial hub.

“Cote d’Ivoire is a nation with its own legal system and institutions, and it will use all the resources it has to solve this problem.”

UN peacekeepers are currently guarding the headquarters of Ouattara at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan.

Ouattara was declared winner of the November 28 presidential runoff by the UN mission in Abidjan [AFP]

Patrick Achi, a politician named by Ouattara as minister for economic infrastructure, says he does not trust the Gbagbo camp’s assurances that they are allowed to safely leave the hotel for talks.

“We do not trust these claims. We do not have any problem talking to [Gbagbo] but he has to recognise that Ouattara is the democratically elected president of this country,” he told Al Jazeera from Abidjan on Wednesday.

Earlier, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said that forces loyal to Gbagbo have tried to blockade the UN mission in Abidjan and that the country faces a “real risk” of returning to civil war.

Ban made the comments on Tuesday while briefing the General Assembly, and called on member states to prepare supplies to help the mission.

The pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council overturned results certified by the UN mission that made Ouattara the winner of the poll.

Gbagbo remains in control of both the military and the media, while Ouattara’s reach remains severely restricted.

“The intention of Mr Gbagbo and the security forces loyal to him is clearly to blockade the United Nations peacekeeping mission and to suffocate the government of President-elect Ouattara,” Ban said.

“We cannot allow this.”

‘UN patrols blocked’

Ban said that forces had blocked UN patrols, denied customs clearance of supplies at Abidjan port and prevented delivery of supplies for more than 800 UN troops and police at the Golf Hotel in the city.

“I am concerned that this disruption of life-support supplies for the mission and the Golf Hotel will put our peacekeepers in a critical situation in the coming few days,” he said.

“I therefore strongly appeal to member states who are in a position to do so to prepare to support the mission to assist with the continued flow of supplies.”

Ban has said UN role “is now even more critical'” for the stability of Cote d’Ivoire and the region.

He said that the UN force “has also confirmed that mercenaries, including freelance former combatants from Liberia, have been recruited to target certain groups in the population”.

For his part, Alain Le Roy, the UN peacekeeping chief, has said that he is concerned that groups linked to Gbagbo might be preparing raids against the UN peacekeepers.

He said that mercenaries may have been recruited from Angola. UNOCI was attacked on Saturday and returned fire.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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