A trio of West African leaders handed Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo an ultimatum on Tuesday — cede power to his rival, Ivorian presidental claimant Alassane Ouattara, or face regional military action.
The leaders of Benin, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone met Gbagbo in the Abidjan, Ivory Coast, official residence where he is clinging to power, surrounded by a circle of advisers determined to resist a barrage of global pressure.
Beninese President Thomas Boni Yayi, Sierra Leone President Ernest Koroma and Cape Verde President Pedro Pires then drove under armed UN escort to the hotel where Ouattara’s shadow government is holed up surrounded by peacekeeping troops.
The trio came to Abidjan as representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has recognized Ouattara as the victor of last month’s Ivorian election and told Gbagbo to stand down.
However, Gbagbo nevertheless emerged from his round of talks smiling and apparently relaxed as he escorted his international guests from the palace.
“Everything went well,” was all Yayi told reporters.
The troika then spent three hours in private talks with the internationally recognized Ivorian president-elect Ouattara in the Golf Hotel resort, which is the limit of the territory under his control in the commercial capital.
Afterward, the presidents were hustled away without speaking to reporters, but Ouattara’s spokesman said they had briefed Ouattara that they had told Gbagbo once again that he must step aside quickly.
“They told the former president Laurent Gbagbo that ... Alassane Ouattara’s status as president of the republic is non-negotiable,” spokesman Patrick Achi told reporters at the hotel.
“The matter now is to negotiate the conditions for the departure of former president Laurent Gbagbo,” he said. “President Alassane Ouattara hopes that the envoys will return as quickly as possible.”
Following this meeting, the presidents returned for a final meeting with Gbagbo to brief him on their talks with Ouattara, then left Abidjan bound for Nigeria, where they will see ECOWAS chairman Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
Nigeria not only holds the rotating ECOWAS presidency but, as West Africa’s biggest economic and military power, would also be expected to provide a large part of any regional force set up to force Gbagbo out.
As the diplomatic battle continued, tension mounted in the streets of Abidjan, where the UN estimates more than 173 people have been killed in the past month.
The UN said a mob had attacked a convoy of three vehicles carrying 22 peacekeepers as it traveled in a pro-Gbagbo neighborhood.
“A large crowd encircled the convoy, wounding a soldier’s arm with a machete and setting fire to one of the three vehicles,” the UN said in a statement.
The UN mission added that the army chief of staff loyal to Gbagbo had intervened to restore order.
Meanwhile, the UN’s refugee agency said about 19,120 Ivorian refugees have fled to neighboring Liberia since the disputed Nov. 28 presidential run-off, including about 5,000 since Saturday.
There was one decision that might serve to lessen tension: Gbagbo’s most notorious lieutenant, Ivorian Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude, called off a major street rally that he had called for yesterday.
“There is a postponement to give ongoing diplomacy a chance,” he said.