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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Tuesday 22 November 2005

COTE D IVOIRE: African leaders fly in to break stalemate

ABIDJAN, 22 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Three of Africa’s most prominent presidents flew in to Cote d’Ivoire on Tuesday to help the world’s top cocoa producer hurdle the latest stumbling block to a UN-drafted peace.

Diplomats hope Tuesday’s visitors will force a conclusion to feverish discussions that have failed to produce a new prime minister acceptable to all the signatories of a hobbling three-year peace deal.

President Laurent Gbagbo turned out in the bright morning sun to greet the first to arrive, South African President Thabo Mbeki. Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mamadou Tandja of Niger followed soon after.

Mbeki, who headed a yearlong mediation effort in Cote d’Ivoire, Obasanjo as the chairman of the African Union, and Tandja as current head of regional economic group ECOWAS, have been asked by the UN Security Council, to jointly shepherd the war-divided country back to peace.

The first step under the UN road map is to name a prime minister who can steer his way between Gbagbo, who controls the southern half of the country, the political opposition, and the rebel forces who hold the north of the country.

Under the UN resolution, the prime minister will have full authority over the cabinet and the military and could tilt the balance of power away from Gbagbo.

Gbagbo’s elected mandate expired when presidential elections scheduled for 30 October failed to take place because voter lists had not been drawn up and not a single gun had been handed in on either side of the UN-monitored line that keeps the two armies apart.

With the polls declared impossible, the UN Security Council stepped in to recommend Gbagbo remain in office another 12 months but hand over much of his power to a new prime minister, acceptable to all parties.

But all sides have a different idea about who should take on this crucial role.

A group of self-styled women “Patriots” -- supporters of Gbagbo -- gathered outside the airport chanting “No Ouassenan! No Ouassenan!”, in reference to General Ouassenan Kone who has been short-listed for the top job.

Nearly all daily newspapers close to the opposition were tipping Kone as the foreign mediators’ favoured choice.

Kone currently heads the parliamentary group of the former ruling Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI), but in 2003, Kone was the rebels’ preferred candidate for defence minister in the then newly constituted power-sharing government. However, Gbagbo vehemently refused his candidature.

Gbagbo is likely to resist his nomination again, not least because Kone is extremely unpopular in Gbagbo’s home region where, as an army officer, he violently suppressed an uprising in the 1970s.

And even Soro would be unhappy with Kone’s appointment.

“General Ouassenan was my jailor he put me in prison two times!” Soro told IRIN from the rebel stronghold of Bouake. “He has the authority of a former policeman and he can’t not have ‘connections’.”

An original list of 16 names was whittled down to a shortlist of four by the peacemakers, but last week the rebels rejected this shortlist because their leader, Guillaume Soro, had been crossed out.

The New Forces rebels argue that the primeministership - the country’s second job - is rightfully theirs on the basis that they control over half the country.

But a plan for all the armed and unarmed opposition, collectively known as the G7, to rally behind Soro has failed.

Soro on Tuesday refused to travel to the main city Abidjan to meet with the visiting heads of state, but sent his spokesman Sidiki Konate and second in command Louis Dacoury-Tabley, instead.

Among the three other names on the list of four is little-known technocrat, Gervais Coulibaly, thought to be Gbagbo’s preferred candidate. Former justice minister Jacqueline Oble might also get the thumbs up from Gbagbo although she has no support from the opposition or rebels.

The final candidate of the four is banker, Tiemoko Yade, who is close to the opposition Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party.

A name is expected late Tuesday night, or early Wednesday morning, before the three presidents fly out of Cote d’Ivoire.


[ENDS]

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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