Ivory Coast Smolders, Caught Between Presidents
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Another African nation at a crossroads is Ivory Coast. Six weeks after a disputed election, Ivory Coast remains a kind of tinderbox, locked in a political impasse, with two rival presidents and parallel governments. The incumbent clings to power, despite mounting pressure for him to step down. His challenger remains under the protection of UN peacekeepers, trying to govern from a hotel.
As NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports, there are lingering fears of a return to armed conflict in the West African nation, as well as talk of possible regional military intervention.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Ivory Coast's president for the past decade, Laurent Gbagbo, remains ensconced in the presidential palace, with the support of the army. Gbagbo insists he is the duly re-elected leader and is resisting calls to concede defeat in November's vote and hand over to his presidential rival, Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara was declared the winner by Ivory Coast's election commission, certified by the UN, before that decision was overturned by the Constitutional Council in favor of Gbagbo.
Since the New Year, the West African regional bloc has sent two high-level mediation missions to try to resolve the Ivorian stand-off. This was after a stern warning to Gbagbo to step aside or face being ousted by possible military force.
This week, an increasingly impatient Ouattara called on his neighbors from the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to make good on their pledge.
Mr. ALASSANE OUATTARA (Presidential Candidate, Ivory Coast): ECOWAS has said clearly that Mr. Laurent Gbagbo should leave office, because he has lost the election. If he persists, they say they'll use any other means, including legitimate force. I'm pretty sure this will happen sooner than you think.
Laurent Gbagbo is not sincere. He wants to bring in arms, munitions and mercenaries, because he wants to stay in office .
QUIST-ARCTON: Ouattara says Gbagbo is simply trying to buy time and that elite forces could uproot him, without the need for a full-scale military operation in Ivory Coast. But the resolve of West African leaders began to show cracks this week. Ghana announced it was overstretched on peacekeeping duties, and now the Ghanaian president, John Atta-Mills, says he opposes military intervention in Ivory Coast.
President JOHN ATTA-MILLS (Ghana): Some of us believe in quiet diplomacy, and that is exactly what we are doing. There are some who have expressed reservations about the success of the intended military operation. As a person, I do not think that this military operation is going to bring peace to Cote d'Ivoire.
QUIST-ARCTON: President Mills said Ghana would support any measures to implement democratic ideals in Ivory Coast, and those, say the UN, the African Union, the White House and others, are that the will of the Ivorian electorate must be respected, with Ouattara as the new president.
Washington has imposed a travel ban and assets freeze on Gbagbo and his close associates. Johnnie Carson is the senior U.S. diplomat for Africa.
Mr. JOHNNIE CARSON (U.S. Diplomat): There is no question that the election in the Ivory Coast was stolen by President Gbagbo and those around him. We believe President Gbagbo still has an opportunity to accept a number of offers. But the longer this crisis goes on, the chances for those opportunities to remain diminish.
QUIST-ARCTON: Apart from targeted international sanctions, Gbagbo and his entourage could face possible criminal responsibility for killings and other violations since the election. That's the warning from the UN Human Rights Commission and the International Criminal Court.
Meanwhile, Ivorians are weary of conflict. Ba Coulibaly is a teacher in the commercial capital, Abidjan.
Mr. BA COULIBALY (Teacher): We have so many soldiers in the street now. Things are not really, really working well. We're hoping it will come back to normal.
QUIST-ARCTON: A feeling shared by many in Ivory Coast.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.
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