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13 December - The United Nations moved today towards imposing sanctions on anybody obstructing the peace process in Côte d'Ivoire, where outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo refuses to step down despite international recognition of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as the divided country's new head.

The UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) set up a Monitoring Committee to record all incidents, behaviour, actions and decisions that block the peace process and the work of UNOCI and other international actors involved in seeking to restore peace to the West African country, which was split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.

“The Committee will propose concrete measures to be taken, including the imposition of immediate targeted sanctions,” Simon Munzu, the head of UNOCI's Human Rights Division and chair of the Committee, told a news conference in Abidjan, the country's commercial capital, calling on Ivorians to avoid actions obstructing the march towards a definitive resolution to the crisis, “which has lasted far too long.”

Last month's much delayed presidential elections were meant to be the culminating point of these efforts, but the poll generated a new crisis when the Constitutional Council threw out the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) proclamation of Mr. Ouattara as victor, citing irregularities in his northern base, and awarded the election to Mr. Gbagbo.

The UN Security Council, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU), as well as many individual countries, have all recognized Mr. Ouattara as the rightful victor of the 28 November run-off election.

Last Wednesday the Council reiterated its readiness “to impose targeted measures against persons who attempt to threaten the peace process, obstruct the work of UNOCI and other international actors, or commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”

Mr. Munzu said the Committee will also take into account serious violations of human rights, including equal access to state media for everyone, and incitement to hatred and violence, noting that the Council denounced the suspension of non-governmental media in Côte d'Ivoire.

Laying out the UN reasons for endorsing Mr. Ouattara as president of the world's largest cocoa exporter, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative Y. J. Choi last week publicly rebutted Mr. Gbagbo's claims of irregularities point by point, noting that even if contested tally sheets were thrown out, it was still clear that Mr. Ouattara had won.

UNOCI, with a current strength of over 9,000 uniformed personnel, has been supporting reunification efforts since 2003.