West African summit seeks way out of I.Coast crisis

December 7, 2010 12:00 am

, ABUJA, Dec 7 – West African leaders meet in a special summit on Ivory Coast\’s electoral crisis on Tuesday under pressure to take action to help resolve the country\’s political standoff as fears of unrest intensify.

Ivory Coast leaders have not been invited to the summit of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria, though the country is a member of the organisation.

ECOWAS has already issued a strongly worded statement on the crisis condemning incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo and calling for the acceptance of results showing his rival Alassane Ouattara won presidential elections.

The summit comes at a critical time, with fears of unrest and the threat of sanctions looming while international mediators seek to settle the crisis.

Ex-South African president Thabo Mbeki was dispatched urgently Sunday by the 53-member African Union as Gbagbo defied international calls to cede power.

Much of the world has lined up behind Ouattara, including the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union.

ECOWAS has a range of options at its disposal, analysts say, including suspending Ivory Coast or threatening targeted sanctions, such as travel restrictions for individuals, but the leaders of the diverse region will first have to unite.

"The region\’s divided, or has been divided in the past on Cote d\’Ivoire to a degree," said Alex Vines, director of the Africa programme at London-based think tank Chatham House.

"If they can reach a united front on Cote d\’Ivoire, that would be really important."

He said a "coordinated front and united international pressure" was needed to keep the situation in the world\’s largest cocoa producer from further degenerating.

The election was supposed to end a decade of conflict in the country, which was once the most prosperous in West Africa, but observers now warn that it could lead to fresh unrest linked to tensions between the north and south.

A civil war in 2002 and 2003 had split the country in two.

Following the vote, Gbagbo\’s allies in the Constitutional Court overturned UN-certified results that gave Ouattara victory.

In overturning the results, allegedly rigged ballots in parts of the north, Ouattara\’s stronghold, were annulled.

Jibrin Ibrahim of the Nigeria-based Centre for Democracy and Development called Gbagbo\’s swearing in a "coup d\’etat" and urged ECOWAS to suspend Ivory Coast "until there is a return to the constitutional order."

ECOWAS spokesman Sunny Ugoh could not comment on what measures may be on the table during the summit, saying only that regional leaders would search for a way out of the crisis.

"They\’re going to review the latest developments in Cote d\’Ivoire and see exactly what they need to do to resolve the situation there," he said.

With at least 20 people killed in election-related clashes since November 28, according to Amnesty International, and unconfirmed reports of other violence around the country, non-governmental groups pushed for action.

"The international community, especially the Peace and Security Council of the African Union and ECOWAS, must take steps to prevent further escalation of violence in Cote d\’Ivoire," said Salvatore Sagues, Amnesty International\’s West Africa researcher.


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