Incumbent Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo faces a cash crunch that could make it hard for him to continue paying the wages of soldiers who back him, after the West African regional central bank cut his access to funds.
The UN General Assembly, adding to international pressure on Gbagbo to concede defeat in a Nov. 28 election, recognized challenger Alassane Ouattara as Ivory Coast’s legitimate president.
The standoff between the two men has caused the deaths of nearly 200 people and threatens to tip the country back into civil war.
Ministers from the Central Bank of the West African Economic and Monetary Union issued a declaration late on Thursday saying the bank would no longer recognize Gbagbo’s authority as president, and that access to funds would only be given to Ouattara’s “legitimate government.”
The move follows a World Bank decision on Wednesday to freeze about US$800 million in committed financing, adding to expectations that Gbagbo may soon struggle to pay wages — including to troops.
Military support for Gbagbo is seen as one of the main reasons he is able to defy calls to step down.
Gbagbo’s Minister of Finance Desire Dalo did not comment when reached by telephone late on Thursday. A spokesman for Ouattara’s government said the decision by the central bank was “a very important move toward controlling the economic power.”
Ivory Coast’s US$2.3 billion bond due 2032 fell nearly a point to a record low on Thursday as investors worried that the country would be unable to meet a US$30 million bond payment on Dec. 31.
Turmoil in the world’s top cocoa-producing country has also boosted cocoa prices to recent four-month highs, disrupting export registrations and raising the possibility that fighting could block transport and shipping.
In New York, the 192-nation UN General Assembly recognized Ouattara by unanimously deciding that the list of diplomats he submitted to the world body be recognized as the sole official representatives of Ivory Coast at the UN.
Thursday’s move will strengthen Ouattara’s claim to be the legitimate leader of Ivory Coast and deepen the isolation of Gbagbo, who has few supporters across the international community, UN diplomats said.
The US, the UN, the EU, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States have all recognized provisional electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the winner, with Washington and Brussels issuing sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle.
However, Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving in to pressure and insists he won the election after the Constitutional Court, which is headed by one of his allies, threw out hundreds of thousands of votes from pro-Ouattara constituencies.
The standoff turned violent last week after gunbattles broke out briefly between government soldiers and rebels who now back Ouattara.
Residents of pro-Ouattara neighborhoods have said masked gunmen are now breaking into homes by night and kidnapping people.
A statement issued by the UN mission in Ivory Coast on Thursday said that masked supporters of Gbagbo armed with rocket launchers have been blocking a road to Anyama, around N’Dotre, which it said is “a village outside Abidjan where allegations point to existence of a mass grave.”
The UN Human Rights Council issued a declaration of condemnation on the human rights violations and called for reconciliation to prevent civil war.