, ABIDJAN, Jan 18 – The African Union\’s mediator in Ivory Coast\’s presidential stand-off said Monday he had made progress in talks with incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and that negotiations were expected to continue Tuesday.
His statement came as diplomats at the United Nations said the Security Council would vote Tuesday to send 2,000 extra troops to Ivory Coast to boost pressure on veteran leader Gbagbo to step down.
"We have had very useful discussions with president Gbagbo," Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said.
He was speaking after talks at the presidential palace, where the envoy tried to secure a peaceful end to the crisis pitting Gbagbo against Alassane Ouattara, the man internationally recognised as the winner of November\’s vote.
The November 28 presidential election was supposed to end a 10-year crisis that brought the country to its knees, but has instead sent tens of thousands fleeing amid fears of a return to civil war.
"We have raised issues which we raised last time when we were here and we have made some progress in these discussions," Mr Odinga said after more than two hours of talks.
Later, after a meeting with Gbagbo\’s rival, Mr Odinga said: "We have had very fruitful discussions with president Ouattara and… subject to certain conditions being met, there may be some discussions further tomorrow."
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara have taken the oath as president, while Gbagbo\’s army besieges Ouattara\’s camp at an Abidjan hotel. In response, Ouattara\’s followers have called for a new general strike starting Tuesday.
UN peacekeepers, who complain of being harassed by Gbagbo loyalists, fired warning shots to disperse a crowd at the luxury hotel where Odinga was checked in to stay.
A UN spokesman said the incident was not linked to Mr Odinga\’s arrival, adding he was unable to confirm reports of injuries.
Gbagbo has demanded several times that UN forces leave the west African nation, but the Security Council resolution to be voted on Tuesday will send another 2,000 reinforcements until June 30, diplomats said.
That will bring the UN force, UNOCI, up to about 11,500 troops, including other reinforcements sent before the presidential election.
Peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy had earlier said he would seek between 1,000 and 2,000 more troops, while other reinforcements would also be extended.
Ahead of his arrival in the cocoa-rich nation, Odinga described his latest mission as "another trial to see if we can make a peaceful resolution to the crisis".
"We will see his (Gbagbo\’s) reaction to the new peace offer we will make to him. We are hopeful to resolve the crisis," he said, declining to provide details of the offer.
Previous incentives have included immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity, exile in various countries, the possibility of staying in Ivory Coast and Gbagbo followers\’ participation in a unity government.
While the United States said last week that the window of opportunity for Gbagbo to take up such offers would not be open for long, Gbagbo insists his election victory and title of president are non-negotiable.
Odinga\’s first trip to Abidjan since being appointed as mediator ended on January 5, with little tangible progress after Gbagbo failed to make good on promises that mediators said he made.
The duration of his current trip was unknown.
The African Union and the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have struggled to mediate the crisis, brandishing the threat of military action as a "last resort".
Odinga said he would likely travel on to other countries for talks on the crisis, including Ghana, Angola, Burkina Faso and his own Kenya.
Amid the floundering mediation efforts, Ouattara\’s coalition, the RHDP, called for an open-ended general strike set to last until Gbagbo moves out. A previous general strike called in late December failed to build momentum.
More than 200 people have been killed since the contested election.
Most of the global community, the United Nations and the Independent Electoral Commission back Ouattara as the winner. But the constitutional council, run by the president\’s allies, has declared Gbagbo the winner.
ECOWAS defence chiefs are to meet in the Malian capital Bamako from Wednesday for talks focussed on how to deal with Ivory Coast\’s crisis.