, LAGOS, Dec 31 – West African regional military chiefs have set in motion plans to oust Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo if negotiations fail, a Nigerian defence spokesman said Friday.
The decision was reached at a meeting in Abuja of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) attended by military chiefs from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Togo, Niger and Nigeria.
"The committee of chiefs of defence staff met on Tuesday and Wednesday to put machinery in motion that if all political persuasions fail… ECOWAS will forcefully take over power from Laurent Gbagbo and hand over to Alassane Ouattara," Colonel Mohamed Yerimah told AFP.
ECOWAS has a standby troubleshooting force of 6,500 soldiers which officials said is almost ready to deploy.
"This is the last resort but hopefully Gbagbo will be persuaded to handover power politically without military cohesion," he said.
A follow-up meeting to fine-tune the logistics is scheduled for Mali on January 17 and 18, he said.
"The meeting will decide on all the modalities for the operation, like how long the troops will remain and how soon they will be deployed," said Yerimah.
He said member countries will be expected to contribute troops and materials for the operation.
But Ghana on Thursday announced it would not send any troops to Ivory Coast on grounds that it has overstretched its capacity in peacekeeping operations elsewhere.
Nigeria, traditionally the largest contributor of troops to peacekeeping missions, has pressing security needs back home with upcoming elections and outbursts of sectarian violence and the oil militancy.
A delegation of three West African presidents went to Abidjan on Tuesday to urge Gbagbo to setp down or face military intervention, but left without a clear result, and have since said they are still pressing for a peaceful solution.
The delegation is due back in Ivory Coast on Monday, but the country appears to be edging towards more unrest as Gbagbo\’s notorious "Street General", Minister for Youth Charles Ble Goude, has called on the country\’s youths to rise up after the New Year to seize control of Ouattara\’s headquarters in a waterfront Golf Hotel resort.