The ongoing political impasse in Côte d'Ivoire contributes to heightened tensions and hampers efforts to normalize the situation in the West African nation, which has been trying for eight years to overcome the crisis that split the country, a senior United Nations official said today.

“This political stalemate is hardly encouraging,” Y. J. Choi, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Côte d'Ivoire, told the Security Council as he briefed the 15-member body on the latest developments.

“Indeed, during the eight years since the outbreak of the crisis, perennial delays in implementing the various peace agreements have been a source of deep frustration for the Ivorian people as well as the international community,” he stated.

“It is all the more so since the elections appeared to be within our grasp until several months ago.”

Côte d'Ivoire, which became split by civil war in 2002 into a rebel-held north and Government-controlled south, was making progress toward the holding of elections – which were supposed to have been held as far back as 2005 but have been repeatedly postponed.

The country witnessed the publication of the provisional electoral list throughout the country, the launch of the appeals process, and the validation of all major candidates for the presidential election.

The political impasse began in early January after the production of the second electoral list. Political tensions began to mount after voter registration was suspended due to violence and President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved the Government and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in February.

Despite the establishment of a new Government and Electoral Commission since then, the electoral process remains stalled as the differences on how to address the issue of fraud and resume the interrupted appeals process on the provisional voters list persists.

“The events of February and March 2010 have demonstrated that the continuing failure to hold elections in Côte d'Ivoire and materialize the reunification of the country contributes to heightening tensions and hampers constitutional, political, economic and social normalization,” said Mr. Choi.

He noted that the reason for the impasse is that the three major protagonists of the crisis are now dealing with their core interest – the presidential camp wants reunification before elections; the opposition wants elections before reunification; and the rebel Forces Nouvelles wants identification before reunification.

As agreed by the parties in 2008, a de facto reunification is to be completed two months prior to the presidential election.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a recent report, noted that the lack of progress in resolving the impasse has led some to start questioning the relevance of the framework of the Ouagadougou Peace Agreements, the 2007 blueprint for political reconciliation forged in the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso.

He warned that any unravelling of the Ouagadougou framework would be a cause for serious concern, noting that there is currently no alternative framework to these agreements.

Mr. Ban also recommended maintaining the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) until the end of the year – with the same current total strength of its military and police components – “in order to give Côte d'Ivoire a chance to walk the final mile to the elections with the full support of the United Nations.”

If the Council approves such an extension, Mr. Ban also suggested an adjustment of the mission's mandate to allow it to focus on helping the parties to implement the remaining priority tasks, including those related to elections, disarmament and all aspects of the reunification of the country.

Last week the Council extend UNOCI until 30 June, as it continues to consider possible revisions to the mission's mandate.

Mr. Choi noted that, in the meantime, the mission will maintain three priority objectives for the immediate future: maintaining peace and stability in the country, including the protection of civilians; safeguarding past achievements, in both the elections and reunification domains; and helping to establish the definitive electoral list as expeditiously as possible.

Accra / Ghana/ Africa /