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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Monday 10 January 2005

COTE D IVOIRE: Mbeki reports on peace mission as opposition accuses Gbagbo of preparing for war

LIBREVILLE, 10 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa briefed African leaders on Monday on his efforts to prevent Cote d'Ivoire relapsing into full-scale civil war as opposition leaders in the country accused President Laurent Gbagbo of preparing to resume hostilities.

The crisis in Cote d'Ivoire was discussed behind closed doors at the start of a two-day summit of the African Union's 15-nation Peace and Security Commission in the Gabonese capital Libreville.

But events outside the conference room indicated that Mbeki had made little progress in putting a 2003 peace agreement between Gbagbo and rebels occupying the north of Cote d'Ivoire back on the rails.

The G7 alliance, which groups Cote d'Ivoire's rebel movement and the main opposition parties in parliament, issued a blunt statement on Monday accusing Gbagbo of continuing to seek a military solution to the two-and-a-half-year-old conflict and urging the United Nations to impose further sanctions on the country.

"The head of state is sticking to the military option as the only way out of the crisis and is preparing for an imminent resumption of hostilities," the G7 said in a statement that was published by several Abidjan newspapers.

"As a result, the G7 political forces ask the UN Security Council to apply effectively and immediately the sanctions provided for in resolution 1572," it added.

This Security Council resolution imposed an immediate arms embargo on Cote d'Ivoire following an abortive attempt by Gbagbo to invade the rebel-held north of the country in early November. It also threatened to slap a travel ban and asset freeze on key individuals seen as obstructing the peace process in a second wave of sanctions.

Gbagbo, who had earlier declined an invitation to attend the Libreville summit, turned up unexpectedly in the Gabonese capital on Monday morning.

So too did a delegation from the G7 opposition alliance, led by its chairman Alphonse Djedje-Mady, the secretary general of Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI), the largest opposition party in parliament.

However, the Libreville summit may not have the final word in setting regional policy on Cote d'Ivoire.

Officials of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which played a key role in trying to broker peace in Cote d'Ivoire before Mbeki came on the scene two months ago, said their organisation would hold its annual summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja on 19 January.

The situation in Cote d'Ivoire would be a major topic on the summit agenda, they told IRIN by telephone from Abuja.

ECOWAS, which groups 15 countries in West Africa, is chaired by Ghanaian President John Kufuor. He hosted an African summit in Accra at the end of July to try and revive the Ivorian peace process. However, ECOWAS has its headquarters in Nigeria, the largest and most powerful state in the region.

Mbeki was called in as a mediatory in Cote d'Ivoire by the AU after Gbagbo broke an 18-month-old ceasefire on 4 November by launching air raids on the rebel-held north and mustering ground forces for a ground offensive through UN peacekeepers patrolling a buffer zone along the frontline.

The military push was stopped in its tracks after just two days when French peacekeepers destroyed the president's small fleet of jet bombers and helicopter gunships on the ground. But this military intervention sparked off anti-French rioting in Abidjan which led to the evacuation of nearly 9,000 European residents in the city, most of whom were French businessmen and their families.

The Marcoussis peace agreement provides for the rebels to disarm before the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in October this year.

However, given the long delays in implementing political reforms that were supposed to be put in place before the rebels handed in their weapons and the continuing climate of deep distrust between Gbagbo and the opposition, diplomats have begun to question privately whether the elections can still be held on schedule.

Gbagbo himself spoke publicly about a possible postponement last week. The president said he would not step down at the end of his present four-year term if fresh elections could not take place in October.

Following its discussion of the situation in Cote d'Ivoire, the AU Peace and Security Commission is due to debate the continuing conflict in Sudan's Darfur province and a recent upsurge of violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The government in Kinshasa has accused neighbouring Rwanda of staging incursions across the border and backing insurgent forces in eastern DRC. Kigali has denied these claims, but has said it is ready to cross the border to strike at Hutu militia forces based in DRC that threaten its own security.

Presidents Joseph Kabila of DRC and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, both arrived in Gabon on Monday to attend the AU summit.

The meeting is being held in Libreville since President Omar Bongo of Gabon holds the rotating chairmanship of the AU Peace and Security Commission.


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