AU lifts sanctions on Ivory Coast

Sanctions lifted, but the new president has a huge task ahead as deep divisions still remain.

    Tensions are still high in Ivory Coast as factional fighting persists and the president's camp remains divided [Reuters]

    The African Union [AU] lifted sanctions on Ivory Coast on Thursday, ending four months of diplomatic isolation - but fighting between armed groups underscored the challenges facing the new president.

    At least two French cargo ships docked just hours after the AU's move, which followed Alassane Ouattara taking over as the new Ivorian president. His ascendency ended a months-long power struggle with now deposed president Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to step down after last year's disputed elections.

    Gbagbo was captured last week in a French and UN-backed assault on his forces and is now under house arrest in the country's north.

    Ouattara received almost universal international backing during the standoff and international organisations have shown they are ready to help out.

    But he must heal deep divisions, including many within his own camp.

    Click for more coverage on the Ivory Coast

    "We recommended that the president-elect (should) pursue building peace in Ivory Coast, reconcile people and make Ivory Coast a country where people are in unity," said Joseph Nsengimana, Rwanda's AU ambassador and chairman of the AU's Peace and Security Council.

    Nsengimana was speaking after the punitive sanctions, imposed to try and force Gbagbo to relinquish power, were lifted at a meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

    The EU has also eased some of its restrictions, paving the way for exports to resume, although shippers say it will take weeks to reach normal volumes. France is to give Ivory Coast a 200million euro (US$291million) emergency loan within days, said French finance minister Christine Lagarde.

    Against this backdrop of continued uncertainty, the World Health Organisation reported on Thursday an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) in Ivory Coast, with three new cases reported in January and February and accompanied by the onset of paralysis.

    The violence prevented health workers from carrying out polio immunisations in late March.

    "The overriding priority is to urgently stop the WPV3 outbreak," WHO said.

    The UN also warned of the threat of spreading polio on Thursday after three children were confirmed as having the crippling disease.

    Struggle for control

    More than 10 days after Gbagbo's arrest, pro-Ouattara forces are still struggling to get full control of the main city Abidjan, which was wracked by nearly two weeks of heavy fighting and looting.

    Ouattara's forces clashed on Wednesday with remnants of pro-Gbagbo fighters, as well as members of the formerly allied Invisible Commando, which spearheaded attacks on Gbagbo's forces in advance of last month's full-out assault.

    Residents said fighting had died down in Abobo and Yopougon overnight, though sporadic gunfire was still heard.

    Kascou Coul, a member of the Abobo-based Invisible Commando, said they were on high alert and some colleagues had been arrested but Ibrahim Coulibaly, the force's chief, was seeking to resolve the situation.

    There are long-standing divisions between Coulibaly and the pro-Ouattara forces.

    A member of the pro-Gbagbo militia in Yopougon also said talks were under way.

    "They started yesterday. We want peace so life can return to normal in Yopougon," Gerome Youan said.

    After months of failed diplomacy, the pro-Ouattara former rebels from the north launched an offensive in late March, seizing swathes of territory before becoming bogged down in urban combat.

    UN and French forces intervened to destroy Gbagbo's heavy weapons in an operation that provided Ouattara forces the breakthrough they needed, ending a crisis that has killed well over 1,500 people and forced one million from their homes.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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