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Pressure Builds to End Stalemate in Cote d’Ivoire

Aprille Muscara

WASHINGTON, Jan 18 2011 (IPS) - Ten days before the two-month deadline for a negotiated solution to Cote d’Ivoire’s presidential deadlock comes due, pressure is mounting to end the stalemate in Abidjan, as observers pin the outcome of the power struggle on the future of the region as a whole.

“If Cote d’Ivoire doesn’t get resolved properly, then… democrats across the African continent can… go home,” said Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh at a Centre for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) panel discussion here Friday, which featured President-elect Alassane Ouattara via telephone link.

Fomunyoh, senior associate at the National Democratic Institute, argued that a failure to respect the results, which incumbent Laurent Gbagbo disputes, and see the voting process through provides ill incentive for other African nations to implement fair and transparent democratic institutions. The continent is slated to host some 17 elections this year.

“The votes of citizens must count after they are cast, or democracy will not hold in the continent,” said Goodluck Jonathan, Nigerian president and head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that African Union efforts to mediate the situation, which were resuscitated Monday and seemed to be making headway, are being cut short due to Gbagbo’s refusal to lift the blockade on the Golf Hotel, where Ouattara has set up camp.

The hotel is being protected by U.N. peacekeepers who have come under attack in recent days by Gbagbo supporters.

Gbagbo, who has been in power since 2000 and has successfully stalled elections since, retains control of key institutions, including state-owned media, oil and cocoa companies, a civil service of 140,000 and the 60,000-strong armed forces.

President-elect Ouattara told the CSIS audience here that Gbagbo should be displaced through military means.

“I think we have come to a point where I believe, seriously, that force should be used to remove Mr. Gbagbo. I’m a man of peace… [but] it’s been six weeks now… The number of people he killed is unacceptable,” Ouattara said during the discussion, which was his first time addressing a U.S.- audience since his country’s Oct. 31, 2010 election.

The defence chiefs of ECOWAS met in Mali Tuesday in part to discuss the military option in Cote d’Ivoire. Although most of the international community, including the U.N., A.U., ECOWAS and the European Union, consider Ouattara the legitimate winner, consensus has not been reached over the use of force to remove Gbagbo from power.

“We [ECOWAS] have not changed the position we took during our last summit,” President Jonathan said Tuesday, referring to the group’s previous meeting in which the use of force was being considered.

However, John Atta Mills, president of Ghana, an ECOWAS member, has gone on record as being against military intervention and stated that he would refuse to contribute troops to any such ECOWAS operation. The group of African ambassadors at the U.N. also issued a letter Tuesday denouncing the military option as “no option”. The group included Jonathan’s own envoy and those of the ECOWAS countries.

Observers hope that the use of force will be a last-resort, as the targeted sanctions leveraged against Gbagbo and his supporters by the U.S., the E.U. and the U.N. seem to be starting to tighten.

Ouattara told the CSIS audience that his opponent is strong- arming the country’s banks to continue funneling him funds, and businesses to keep paying him taxes, despite the sanctions in place.

“We have returned to the governor [of the central bank] and we have told them that if they continue, we will ask the European Union, the U.S. and the U.N. to put them on the list of people to be sanctioned,” Ouattara said.

“Now, on top of that you have now the question of trying to cut off use of funds through the petroleum, cocoa, coffee business,” he added. “We are working on that. We have had several meetings with the major petroleum companies abroad and also with the Cargill, ADM, Armajaro – all these cocoa business companies – to tell them… not pay taxes to the Gbagbo government.”

“Of course, they have problems because Mr. Gbagbo uses the military forces to go and intimidate them, and this is a major problem of security for most of them,” he noted.

Ouattara also said that he was against economic sanctions at large because they would impact the Ivorian people negatively and that his camp was considering other options to pressure his opponent. “For example, domestically we are looking at a possibility of strikes in the transport sector, in the domestic crude sector, and in other areas.”

Although Abidjan’s Constitutional Council overturned the election results early last month due to irregularities it observed in northern districts, the U.N.’s envoy to Cote d’Ivoire Choi Young-jin certified the outcome. The world body has come under some scrutiny over this certification process, with Russia wielding its veto power over a Security Council draft resolution proclaiming Ouattara the victor.

Moscow is hesitant to involve itself in the internal affairs of the West African nation and claims Choi is only mandated to certify the voting process and not the results themselves.

A Security Council resolution that would increase U.N. troops in the country by 2,000 was stalled Tuesday, reportedly due to Russian objections that the language wasn’t status-neutral.

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