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CÔTE D' IVOIRE: MILITARY OPTION STILL ON CARD –ECOWAS

By NBF News
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The emissaries of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) and the African Union special envoy on the political crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya's Prime Minister, Raila Odinga rose from a review meeting yesterday to declare the option of using force to get President Laurent Gbagbo to relinquish power to president-elect Alassane Ouattara was still on the card.

The mission however, said if there was a half percentage chance that the crisis in the West African nation would be resolved peacefully, both the ECOWAS and AU was willing to explore that option to a logical conclusion.

The ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, had on December 24th recalled in a communiqué said 'In the event that Mr. Gbagbo fails to heeded this immutable demand of ECOWAS, the community would be left with no alternative but to take other measures including the use of legitimate force to achieve the goals of the Ivorian people.'

Meanwhile, Odinga had said using the Kenyan example as a solution was wrong as it does not promote democracy as demonstrated by the Zimbabwean agreement which had failed woefully.

Reading out the communiqué of the meeting, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, James Victor Gbeho, said the five-member Joint High-Level Delegation of the African Union and ECOWAS met with the parties to seek a peaceful resolution of the political crisis that had engulfed the country in the aftermath of the November 28th, 2010 presidential run-off election.

The five-man delegation was made up of the President of the Republic of Cape Verde, Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires, President of the Republic of Benin, Boni Yayi, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya and AU Special Envoy to Cote d'Ivoire, Raila Odinga, and President of the ECOWAS Commission, Gbeho.

The communiqué stated that while in Côte D'Ivoire, the delegation held extensive discussions with the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Côte D'Ivoire, Mr. Choi Young-Jin, Gbagbo, outgoing President of Cote D'Ivoire; and Ouattara, winner of the presidential election.

'In the course of their deliberations, the two contending parties undertook the following: Mr. Laurent Gbagbo agreed to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis without any preconditions. He also pledged to immediately lift the blockade around Hotel Du Golf, the temporary headquarters of Mr. Alassane Ouattara, the President-elect.

'On his part, Mr. Alassane Ouattara indicated his willingness to ensure a dignified exit for Mr. Gbagbo provided the latter accepted the outcome of the presidential election as declared by the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) and certified by the UN.

The Mission reiterated to the parties the positions of the Extra- ordinary Summits of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government and the AU Peace and Security Council on the Ivorian crisis. In this respect, Mr. Alassane Ouattara is the legitimate and recognised 'President of Cote D'Ivoire in accordance with the will of the Ivorian electorate as freely expressed in the run-off election. Accordingly, the Mission re-echoes the fervent call to Mr. Gbagbo to peacefully hand over power to Mr. Ouattara without further delay', it stated.

The Mission commended the resolve of the AU and the ECOWAS to maintain their common principled stance and also act jointly in search of a lasting solution to the crisis. In this respect, it urges the two institutions to despatch another joint high level mission to Cote D'Ivoire as soon as possible to continue discussions with the two parties.

While commending the efforts of the AU representative, the Mission calls on the African Union and the ECOWAS Authority to continue their engagement with the international community with a view to securing adequate support for a sustainable resolution of the present Ivorian crisis.

The Mission appeals to both parties to refrain from any acts likely to aggravate the already critical situation.

The Mission expresses its gratitude to Ouattara and Gbagbo for their cooperation accorded the Delegation.

While fielding questions on the body language of both men while the negotiations were on, Odinga replied, 'both of men are seasoned politicians. Gbagbo wanted a committee to be set up to verify the elections and we told him that was not an option since the material had been with his own supporters, what we need was a political solution. While Ouattara said he was under siege by Gbagbo's men and that he was not even free to celebrate the Christmas and New year with his family. He insisted that he must be recognised as the elected president. So progress has been made'.

Asked how the Kenyan experiment played a role in making progress in the West African nation, Odinga said, 'the Kenyan experiment has become the vogue, loosers stick to power with the hope that they can negotiate a power sharing arrangement with their opponent. I did tell him (Gbabo) that the option is not available here. The Kenyan solution is not really a solution, it hampers the democratization of the continent. I told him that I know that I had won an election but Kenya is bigger than me or anybody else and that is the reason why, we have to look at the bigger picture. I told him that Ivory Coast is much more bigger than one individual person, that is why there is need to negotiate. We know that Kenyan experience was replicated in Zimbabwe but it was not a successful outcome right now.

'So we do not want to see the perpetuation of this experiment. It is not a way of advancing Africa democratisation process. People go to elections so they were will be winners and loosers in an election and loosers must accept defeat so that live can go on peacefully in their country. And this is what we told Mr. Gbabo'.

On whether the use of force to oust Mr. Gbagbo was still on ECOWAS table, Gbeho said, 'Let me say without any equivocation that the military option is still on the card that is the position of ECOWAS as expressed in full in the communiqué issued in December and is still valid.

'However, ECOWAS and AU are telling you now that even if there is a half percent chance of resolving the problem peacefully they will exploit it. The initial contact with President Gbagbo and President Ouattara indicated that promise of getting them to agree on certain essential elements in other to force option that is what the mission is engage in now. It is without doubt that ECOWAS position is that if there is no joy in exploiting the peaceful solution then the military objective can also be considered as a tool in sustainable resolution of the crisis in Cote d' Ivoire.

That is the position now'.
'As regards what should be done hereafter, if you read the communiqué carefully, we have made a report to the chairman of the authority for the information of other members of the authority, we remain at the beck and call of the authority in other to carry out their wishes in Cote d' Ivoire. But at the same time we had argued for maintain the contacts with the two parties, to remain engage with them in other to find out whether the chance of settling the matter politically that is the preference at this stage and we are aware of the dangers in force option, particularly in the region and in a country like Cote d' Ivoire where conflicts where almost our citizens of ECOWAS region are representative. So an option of force must be used with circumspection. But if push comes to shove that is what is going to be used. We have not come to the position of asking questions individual countries who they are going to nominate as members of the force that will be used, that is not done by politicians. Our chiefs of defence staff have been meeting, they are planning for force option if that should be necessary but we haven't come to requesting from Nigeria to designate a number of soldiers who may serve with us. When we get to that bridge we will cross it.