, ABIDJAN, Jan 5 – Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo\’s troops kept up their blockade of his presidential rival\’s headquarters on Wednesday, despite a vow to lift the siege as a prelude to talks to resolve the stand-off.
African leaders struggling to mediate an end to the crisis had said on Tuesday that Gbagbo promised to allow free access to the hotel that has become home to Alassane Ouattara, the man the world says won a November election.
With no visible progress in the confrontation between the two presidents that has seen at least 180 people killed, mediators said that "there should be no vacuum" as they scrambled to send another crisis mission to Abidjan.
West African military chiefs have set in motion plans to oust Gbagbo if negotiations fail.
Security and Defence Forces (FDS) roadblocks barring access to the Golf Hotel where Ouattara and his camp have been besieged since violence flared after the disputed November election were still in place at 1000 GMT.
Security forces at one roadblock told an AFP journalist that access was "closed", and at another indicated that she should do a U-turn as she approached, despite Gbagbo\’s promise announced by African mediators on Tuesday.
The hotel has been protected by around 800 United Nations peacekeepers as well as former rebels allied with Ouattara since Gbagbo troops shot dead several of his supporters as they marched on state television on December 16.
The African Union\’s mediator, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, said in a statement on Wednesday that "Mr Gbagbo has kept his word on the blockade which he lifted at around midday yesterday."
Odinga\’s spokesman said that the premier would be heading for AU headquarters to brief the continental body on the mediators\’ mission before returning to Abidjan "very soon."
The AU and the 15-nation Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) on Tuesday presented the outcome of their talks to the regional bloc\’s chairman, Nigeria\’s President Goodluck Jonathan.
ECOWAS "will have to decide on a (regional) team that would be sent to Abidjan shortly," Odinga\’s spokesman Dennis Onyango told AFP.
"There should be no vacuum. It is for ECOWAS to form a new team and decide a date for the next mission. But the prime minister is constant as an AU mediator," he added.
Odinga will thereafter "link up with ECOWAS and return to Abidjan on a fresh mission, which I think will be very soon," he said.
African leaders have consistently demanded that veteran leader Gbagbo stand down, despite his offer of talks without preconditions to resolve the deadly crisis gripping the country.
The leaders who met Gbagbo and Ouattara said the incumbent had promised that the dispute would be settled peacefully through negotiations "without preconditions."
Ivory Coast\’s Independent Electoral Commission as well as the United Nations declared Ouattara the winner of the November 28 run-off poll, while the Constitutional Council said that Gbagbo won.
Both men have been sworn in as president and Gbagbo claims there is an international plot to depose him after more than a decade in power.
Gbagbo, who retains control of the army, rejected an ECOWAS attempt last week to persuade him to step down and end the crisis that has sparked international condemnation and fears of a civil war.
The UN says that at least 179 people have been killed in post-election violence but that it has been unable to fully investigate because of attacks on its personnel, while UN rapporteurs said they feared the violations being committed amounted to "crimes against humanity".