, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 28 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said he is ready to lead the search for a solution to the standoff in Ivory Coast that has been caused by a dispute over election results.
The PM said the chairman of AU commission Jean Ping had requested him early on Monday to join other Heads of State on a trip to the troubled West African country to seek a settlement to the crisis.
According to Mr Odinga’s aides, the PM had other engagements over the holiday season and had asked the three Heads of State from Benin, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone who represent the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to proceed with their mission but promised to lead another effort should the heads of state fail.
The PM told a media briefing at his Bondo home that both the incumbent Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and his challenger Alassane Ouattara “are friends he has known for long” and could use that relationship to try and bring understanding between the two leaders.
"The incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo needs to be given certain assurances, including guarantee of safety if he hands over power," the PM said through his spokesman Dennis Onyango.
"He is worried about the possibility of Ivory Coast sliding into a full scale civil war again," he said.
On Tuesday, there seemed little chance of Gbagbo giving in, and warned that the threat of military action by ECOWAS could plunge the region into war.
On Monday, a general strike call was slow to take effect, but Gbagbo suffered a setback when his Paris embassy fell to supporters of rival Alassane Ouattara.
Both Gbagbo and his long-time rival Ouattara claim to have won last month\’s presidential election, but Ouattara has been recognised as the president by UN vote monitors and world leaders.
Ouattara, who is besieged at a hotel in Abidjan that is protected by UN peacekeepers, had urged workers to down tools across the country on Monday.
At first, the sprawling commercial capital Abidjan, one of West Africa\’s biggest ports and the key to controlling the country, was as busy as ever, its streets snarled with traffic jams and its markets packed with shoppers.
But later in the day, when word of the strike call began to spread, there was disruption to public transport – forcing hundreds to walk home – and there were signs of makeshift barricades springing up in some districts.
Ouattara had more clear-cut success outside the country, however.
His supporters occupied the Ivorian embassy in Paris, after the former colonial power said it would recognise Ouattara\’s choice for ambassador.
The previous pro-Gbagbo ambassador had left the premises without resistance.
The African Union has also called on Gbagbo to go, leaving him almost totally isolated, with only Angola publicly backing its ally. On Sunday, Washington kept up pressure, renewing its support for ECOWAS.
Gbagbo\’s forces remain firmly in charge in Abidjan, where they have been accused of carrying out scores of killings in pro-Ouattara areas.
Ouattara\’s shadow government is under siege in an Abidjan resort, protected by 800 UN peacekeepers, but unable to move beyond the grounds of the Golf Hotel or take charge of the levers of state power.
Some 14,000 Ivorians have already fled to neighbouring Liberia amid the post-election violence, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Saturday.