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8 December - Stressing the impartiality of the United Nations in certifying Côte d'Ivoire's presidential elections, the world body's top envoy in the divided country said today there is absolutely no doubt that the opposition leader won despite the outgoing president's claim to the contrary.

“The Ivorian people have chosen Mr. Alassane Ouattara with an irrefutable margin as the winner over Mr. Laurent Gbagbo,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative Y. J. Choi told a news conference in Abidjan, the West African country's commercial capital, detailing the methods he used to certify the results of the presidential run-off last month.

The vote was a major step in the efforts to reunite the world's largest cocoa exporter after it was split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north. However, it has generated a new crisis after 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.

Yesterday Mr. Choi briefed a closed session of the Security Council, which continued its consultations today, as well as an emergency summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which endorsed his certification of Mr. Ouattara and called on Mr. Gbagbo to yield power without delay.

Today he 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.

The complaints, used by the Constitutional Council, were based on two arguments: that the use of violence in nine departments in the north prevented people from voting, and that tally sheets there lacked the signature of the presidential camp's representatives

On the first issue, Mr. Choi stressed that a voter participation as high as 81 per cent could not possibly mean that there was sufficient violence to prevent people from voting, while reports on violence collected by the UN mission in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) shows that there were fewer violent acts in the north than in the west.

On the second issue, he said he reviewed all tally sheets in the concerned departments and eliminated all those which lacked the signature of Mr. Gbagbo's representatives. “The upshot was that, even such an exercise did not alter in any significant way the outcome of the second round,” he added. “On this basis, I remain absolutely certain that I have found the truth concerning the will of the Ivorian people as expressed on 28 November.”

Mr. Choi said he used three methods “to arrive at the absolute conviction regarding the winner.” First he deployed 721 UNOCI members throughout the country to find voting trends as early as possible. Secondly, he collected results from the 19 regional local electoral commissions, and these further confirmed the trends that it was almost certain who had won and who had lost.

Finally, UNOCI examined all 20,000 tally sheets to see if there was a trace of fraud or manipulation, especially if they had been signed. A certain number had to be discarded but these were not concentrated in some particular regions but were spread randomly.

Mr. Choi vouchsafed his and UNOCI's impartiality in the elections. “Impartiality is so central that, if one does not believe in my impartiality, it would not be possible to believe in the truth that I am going to tell,” he said.

“I have been cited alternatively by the Government and the opposition camps as taking sides with the other party whenever UNOCI refused to side with it. I say with conviction that UNOCI has remained impartial. I present this as the evidence that I have succeeded in safeguarding my impartiality, the strength upon which I today lay the unequivocal result of the second round.”

UNOCI, with a current strength of over 9,000 uniformed personnel, has been supporting reunification efforts, of which November's vote, and the first round held in October following five years of delays, was a principal step.