, ABIDJAN, Jan 3 – Four African leaders began talks with Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo on Monday in a new bid to have him cede power to the internationally recognised winner of a presidential vote.
Presidents Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone, Boni Yayi of Benin and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde are representing the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and Kenya\’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga the African Union.
ECOWAS has said it will take military action to remove Gbagbo if he refuses to stand down in favour of his rival Alassane Ouattara, who has been deemed the winner of the November 28 presidential election by most of the world.
A smiling Gbagbo posed for photographs with the envoys before ushering them into an adjoining room for the talks that ECOWAS has said will offer inducements for him to leave office but no compromise on his stepping down.
The mediators are due to meet Ouattara, who is holed up in an Abidjan hotel resort protected by UN forces, later in the day before reporting back to ECOWAS\’ current head, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan has said that the regional body will decide by Tuesday how to handle the impasse, amid unconfirmed reports of mass graves filled with Ouattara supporters.
It is the envoys\’ second visit after Gbagbo, who retains control of the army, rejected a first attempt last week to persuade him to step down and end the crisis that has sparked international condemnation and fears of a civil war.