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GBAGBO SEEKS PRIVATE TALKS WITH OUATTARA

By NBF News
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UN insists on removal, deploys more troops
Swiss banks to freeze accounts
PRESIDENT Laurent Gbagbo has expressed his desire to meet with his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, in a renewed bid to resolve the ongoing political crisis in Cote d'Ivoire.

Details of the proposed meeting are still sketchy but officials loyal to Gbagbo said he had made overtures to Ouattara to have a private meeting with him on the situation of things.

Ivoirien former Prime Minister, Pascal Affi N'guessan, who confirmed this development to journalists attending a forum organised by a non-governmental organisation, Coordination of Communication for Democracy, in Abidjan looked forward to a definite resolution of the crisis in line with the desires of Ivoiriens.

Besides, the United Nations (UN) Security Council yesterday voted unanimously to deploy 2,000 additional peacekeepers to Cote d'Ivoire.

The new UN troops, to be deployed through June, would bolster the world body's peacekeeping force to nearly 12,000.

The UN also fears that if Gbagbo is not removed, the credibility of Nigeria's general elections in April and about 17 other elections in Africa this year may be threatened.

That was the message from the UN when the world body's Special Representative spoke via a satellite video-link from Cote d'Ivoire broadcast at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday afternoon.

The UN's Special Representative in Cote d'Ivoire Choi Young-jin asked UN reporters rhetorically that 'if we let the incumbent cling to power… what kind of message are we going to give to the Ivoirien people and the African people'?

African Union (AU) envoy and Kenya's Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, said yesterday that despite two days of meetings, he had failed to persuade Gbagbo to relinquish the presidency to Ouattara.

'I regret to announce that the breakthrough that was needed did not materialise,' Odinga said in a statement issued yesterday morning.

Odinga said Gbagbo had broken several promises that he had made to lift a blockade put in place around the Abidjan hotel where Ouattara is confined.

'Mr. Gbagbo gave me an assurance that this blockade would be lifted yesterday, but he broke that promise - for the second time in two weeks,' Odinga said.

Swiss authorities, meanwhile, were moving to immediately freeze any assets belonging to Gbagbo, Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said yesterday. It was not immediately known how much money Gbagbo may have in Swiss bank accounts.

The former Prime Minister, who is also a chieftain of the ruling party, gave insight into the real issues that led to the current political impasse. Describing the situation as unfortunate, he was sad that resources and time would have been saved, if peace talk agreements, especially disarming the rebels, had been followed.

His words: 'The election would have been conducted in a more peaceful atmosphere, which would have led to more acceptable results. The rebels used their force to compel votes and win votes in the Northern part of the country. This led to the cancellation of some votes from that area by the Constitutional Council, the highest decision making judiciary body in this country. The rebels would have seen the need to disarm.    Government was not to disarm them.

The peace talks decided long ago that the rebels should be disarmed voluntarily before elections. President Gbagbo wanted that to be done as spelt out by the agreements. But because he was accused of not wanting to conduct elections, he succumbed to international pressure and allowed the election to be conducted despite the fact that the North has refused to disarm the rebels. The international community did not put the right pressure and did not create the right environment to encourage the rebels to disarm voluntarily, as agreed by the peace talks.

'The Prime Minister should have encouraged the disarmament process, but he did not. He was playing double standards. The President was pushed to the election by the international community, despite his insistence that the rebels must disarm first. He went to the election to prove his good will. While he was insisting that the rebels be disarmed in line with peace agreements, the international community was putting pressure on him to go to the election for peace to reign. He had refused to conduct elections in the past because of the inability of the rebels to obey the peace talks.'

According to him, the electoral committee is an administrative body, while the Constitutional Council is the highest decision making body on issues of this nature.

He continued: 'By our constitution, the electoral committee is made up of 31 members and they have three days within which to prepare their result and send to the Constitutional Council for vetting and final announcement. The electoral committee is supposed to prepare the result in agreement with the entire 31 members. The first round was inconclusive. Both candidates were given approval to go for a second round. In the second round the electoral commission did not announce the result in three days as required by law.

'After three days, they are supposed to send the result unannounced to the Constitutional Council for scrutiny and announcement. The constitution says the electoral committee lose their powers to publicly announce results after three days. They scrutinised the results, based on petitions and documentary evidence, which showed clear irregularities and the fact that there was violence and that people were chased away from some voting centres by rebels loyal to Ouattara. Some were even jailed by the rebels.

'It is important to say that the President of the electoral committee abandoned his 30 other members and went to Golf hotel, Ouattara's campaign headquarters and announced the result, despite that his members were waiting for him for the committee for a meeting to compile the election result report. The Constitutional Council based its judgment on results from the polling booths. The result from each polling booth is usually made into five copies, one to the Constitutional Council; one to the United Nations' Secretary General's representative; one to the President of Burkina Faso (who is the facilitator of the peace agreement); one to ECOWAS; and one to the electoral committee. It is the same package.'

The constitutional council, according to him, is a place that people go to with proof: 'Gbagbo went to the Council with petition. There are pictures and witnesses' statements, petitions and claims. The Council looked into all these and could prove serious cases of irregularities. There were cases where the votes cast were more than the people registered to vote, and this happened in over 2000 places in the region where some votes were cancelled. Many of the President's agents were chased away, killed and injured seriously by the rebels.   There was a particular instance where a lady polling agent was striped naked and beaten severally. A terror environment was created. We are not just talking for talking sake. There were serious pieces of evidence.

'We had African and international observers at the election. All the observers from ECOWAS and different African countries gave reports where they mentioned the irregularities in these areas. It was only the western observers who did not even go to these troublesome places that gave the places a pass mark. The documentary pieces of evidence are there for everybody to see.'

On why the international community was sympathetic to Ouattara, he alleged that the western world, especially France, did not like Gbagbo, because he had an independent mind. 'Gbagbo wanted Cote d'Ivoire to be free from their control. France wanted Cote d'Ivoire to be run from France. Gbagbo did not want that anymore. As a result of this, France wants to control the North using the rebels and Ouattara. Gbagbo has expressed his desire to meet with his opponent to have a private talk, only two of them to attempt to resolve the issue.'