, NOUAKCHOTT, Feb 21 – Five African leaders mediating an end to Ivory Coast\’s leadership crisis met with top African Union and UN officials Sunday to talk strategy amid mounting doubts about the success of their mission.
Emerging after more than six hours of talks, the leaders made no statements other than Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who said simply: "Work is progressing."
A diplomatic source speaking on condition of anonymity said recent unrest in Ivory Coast that left three dead on Saturday was "discussed at length" during the Nouakchott talks.
Before the talks, Mauritania\’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the chair of the five-member panel, said: "The negative repercussions of this crisis which we strongly deplore, is severely affecting our Ivorian brothers, the sub-region and Africa as a whole."
He voiced hope that AU experts who prepared a report on Ivory Coast policy options will "guide our choices and that we will reach a peaceful solution that preserves peace, stability and democracy in Ivory Coast, and strengthens the unity and cohesion of its people."
Abdel Aziz along with Kikwete, presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Idriss Deby of Chad, were tasked by the AU last month to come up with a binding solution to the political impasse in Ivory Coast.
Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, and Said Djinitt, the UN representative in West Africa, were also present at the meeting in the Mauritanian capital.
Since presidential elections on November 28, strongman Laurent Gbagbo has refused to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara, recognised by most of the international community as the legitimate winner.
Some 300 people have been killed in the ensuing violence, according to the UN, and the country faces a deepening economic crisis after Gbagbo nationalised foreign banks.
The meeting in Nouakchott also comes as tensions escalate in Abidjan where at least three youths were shot dead Saturday when security forces loyal to Gbagbo cracked down on pro-Ouattara supporters.
The team heads to Abidjan on Monday to present their proposal to the two rivals, and will have a week to come up with "binding" resolutions.
The two rival Ivorian sides have however expressed serious reservations about the composition of the panel and its chances of breaking the stalemate.
Gbagbo and his supporters are strongly opposed to the presence of Burkina Faso\’s Compaore, accused of supporting Ouattara and the New Forces (FN) rebels.
Ouattara\’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro told a French newspaper on Sunday he did not believe the mediation would succeed "because Laurent Gbagbo will never accept hearing that he lost the elections and must cede power".
"The solution is not power sharing but the installation of democratic rules accepted by all" failing which, the solution would be a "revolution" as seen recently in Egypt and Tunisia.
While initially united in backing Ouattara, the AU now seemed divided, with Zuma, Uganda\’s Yoweri Museveni and Angola\’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos seeking a negotiated solution.
The softened approach has also seen them oppose a military intervention to remove Gbagbo from power as suggested by the Economic Community of West African States.