W. African leaders back off threat of force in Ivory Coast
Seek to continue talks with Gbagbo on ceding power
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — West African leaders blinked in their showdown with Laurent Gbagbo yesterday, taking a military intervention off the table for now so that negotiations can continue with the incumbent leader who refuses to hand over power in Ivory Coast.
Even as the 15-nation regional bloc known as ECOWAS — Economic Community of West African States — gave Gbagbo more time, though, defense officials from member states gathered in Nigeria.
ECOWAS had vowed to use force to wrest Gbagbo from the presidential palace if he did not agree Tuesday to step aside for Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of last month’s election. The presidents of Sierra Leone, Benin, and Cape Verde delivered the ultimatum on ECOWAS’ behalf, hoping to escort Gbagbo into exile. He refused to budge.
An adviser to Ouattara, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that Gbagbo demanded a vote recount during the negotiations with the visiting delegation and also wants amnesty if he leaves office. The United Nations has accused his security forces of being behind hundreds of arrests and dozens of cases of torture and disappearance, an allegation his advisers deny.
The ECOWAS delegation reported yesterday on its trip to Abidjan, and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria said the leaders would return to Ivory Coast Monday.
“Whenever there is a dispute, whenever there is disagreement, it is dialogue that will solve issues,’’ Jonathan said in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, where ECOWAS is based. “The dialogue is on. They are encouraging us to go back.’’
The United Nations declared Gbagbo the loser of the presidential runoff vote held Nov. 28. Chaos in his country already has kept him in power five years beyond his mandate. The UN, which was tasked with certifying the results of the election, the United States and other world powers have insisted Gbagbo hand over power to Ouattara.
In New York yesterday, Ivory Coast’s new UN ambassador, Youssoufou Bamba, said he was worried about his country’s future and was consulting with members of the Security Council ahead of a meeting next week on ways to help Ouattara assume power.
Among his messages, he said, was “to tell them we are on the brink of genocide.’’
Bamba spoke after presenting his diplomatic credentials to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
ECOWAS has sent combat troops to several nations in the past two decades. ECOWAS defense chiefs met yesterday at the Nigeria defense headquarters. A soldier at the headquarters said the meeting was closed to the press.
However, Peter Pham, Africa security analyst, said practical obstacles may prevent troop deployment to Ivory Coast. The best troops from ECOWAS states are already deployed on missions elsewhere such as Sudan, and even if soldiers could be found, transport logistics would be a challenge, he said.
“Gbagbo called their bluff on their ability to follow through on any sort of military threat,’’ said Pham, of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a New York think tank. “Sending a peacekeeping force is one thing, but an invasion force that will be resisted by the national military is quite another.’’
UN peacekeeping chief Alain Leroy, meanwhile, said the UN had become a target of violence after a campaign of “disturbing lies’’ on state television suggested that the UN was arming and transporting anti-Gbagbo rebels.
One UN peacekeeper was wounded with a machete when his patrol was encircled by angry people in the pro-Gbagbo neighborhood of Yopougon Tuesday. A UN armored personnel carrier was burned before the head of the national army personally intervened to allow the peacekeepers to retreat, Leroy said.
Mark Toner, US State Department spokesman, said the United States has begun planning for the possible evacuation of its embassy in Ivory Coast amid concerns of a full-blown conflict.