African Leaders Seek Resolution to Ivory Coast Political Crisis
African leaders are in Abidjan for more talks with Ivory Coast's rival presidents. The country's political crisis has sent thousands of refugees into Liberia.
The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States have recognized former prime minister Alassane Ouattara as the newly-elected president of Ivory Coast.
So the focus of the groups' joint mission to Abidjan is the man who stands in Mr. Ouattara's way - incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.
Mr. Gbagbo says he intends to remain in power and accuses foreign governments of plotting a coup against him. Dim prospects for resolving the dispute are evident in the two sides failing to agree even on what their talks are about.
West African leaders say they are in Abidjan to press their demands that Mr. Gbagbo step down. A spokesman for Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma, who is among the heads of state representing the West African alliance, says Mr. Gbagbo's exit is non-negotiable.
But Mr. Gbagbo's aides say this meeting is all about negotiation.
"They are not coming to negotiate the departure of President Gbagbo," said Ambassador Yao Gnamien, a special advisor to Mr. Gbagbo. "They are coming to Cote D'Ivoire just for a process of negotiations so that we can find a peaceful solution to the crisis."
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says West African leaders will decide what to do next, following Monday's talks that also include the African Union mediator to the crisis, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
The West African alliance says it is considering military force to remove Mr. Gbagbo, but he is still backed by Ivory Coast's military, so a battle for control of Abidjan would be costly. Mr. Gbagbo says Mr. Ouattara should not expect foreign troops to help him and is calling for the departure of U.N. peacekeepers who are guarding Mr. Ouattara's hotel.
Mr. Ouattara says Gbagbo militants are killing his supporters, and he wants the International Criminal Court to investigate. The United Nations estimates that more than 170 people have been killed in post-election violence.
The crisis has sent more than 20,000 Ivorian refugees into Liberia.
"Many of them have come without any food, without any assets at all, and those who have some assets like goats, for example, they would sell them below market price just to be able to buy food and water," said Malek Triki, who works for the World Food Program in West Africa. "And some of them had during the first few days, had even to go back to Ivory Coast in search of food and water."
Relief officials expect as many as 450,000 people may be internally displaced and 150,000 people may eventually seek refuge in Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana.
Article by Scott Stearns, VOA News