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WINDOW FOR GBAGBO'S PEACEFUL EXIT CLOSING, SAYS U.S. ENVOY

By NBF News
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FROM the American Ambassador to the troubled Ivory Coast, Phillip Carter III, has come warning that the window for peaceful transition for the 'defeated' President Laurent Gbagbo is closing, urging him to choose the path of honour by accepting to quit office.

Addressing a special press conference at the weekend in Washington DC, Ambassador Carter said the 'window for Gbagbo to leave honourably, peacefully, with amnesty, is closing.' The American envoy added that the situation in Ivory Coast 'is tense,' rejecting insinuations that the African Union (AU) is dissipating action on getting rid of Gbagbo and installing the recognised winner of the presidential election, Allassane Quattara.

Responding to a reporter's question that the selection of another AU panel with a one month mandate shows a decline in AU leaders' determination to act, the American ambassador who was on a visit to the U.S. capital at the weekend said: 'I think the Africans are looking for whatever means they can to avoid conflict or to exacerbate conflict.

'They all recognise that the human rights abuses that are occurring in Abidjan and in the western part of the country - not necessarily in the north, which is essentially Ouattara's - under Ouattara's control - are something that have to be attended to.'

According to him, the question of accountability is coming up for Gbagbo 'and so, the window for Gbagbo to leave honourably, peacefully, with amnesty, is closing.'

Carter cited former African leaders, including Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria as having made efforts to find a reconciliation, but that even the minimal promises that Gbagbo made, including lifting the blockade of the Golf Hotel, have not been fulfilled.

His words: 'The situation is tense. There have been efforts to mediate, to find a reconciliation, to find some means out of this ugly situation peacefully, led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). There have been efforts on the part of former South African President Mbeki, former Nigerian President Obasanjo.'

Carter recalled that a delegation of ECOWAS presidents has been in Ivory Coast twice and the Prime Minister of Kenya Raila Odinga and others 'have come to work with both sides, to, at a minimum, lift a blockade of the Golf Hotel where President Ouattara is and where he's constrained. That has not happened.'

According to him, 'where they have urged President Gbagbo to seek an honorable, peaceful exit to effect a transition that can move the country forward, he has resisted those offers.'

On whether the naming of the Equatorial Guinea leader to head the AU is a sign that actually African support for doing something about Ivory Coast is dissipating, the U.S. Ambassador disagreed.

According to him, 'I would say that I don't know if that's necessarily correct. I think what we're seeing are efforts on the part of Gbagbo to marshal support amongst certain long standing partners, but the selection of President Obiang to the head of the AU was something that was cooked ahead of this crisis. This - his election- has nothing to do with the situation in Cote D'Ivoire.' He added that Africans recognise that the Ivoirien election was a good one 'and that you have to honor the results of that. Trying to set that election aside would be a major setback for democracy in sub-Saharan Africa.'

The U.S. envoy noted that 'given the huge investment that was made by national institutions, the international community, the fact is that the election was transparent, and frankly, the results are factual. It's a matter of fact, not a matter of interpretation.'

On the one month addition time stipulated to resolve the crisis, the U.S. opinion, he said, is 'leave it to the African leadership to determine if that's adequate. They've given themselves a month. And you have to understand that this is a culmination of other efforts on the part of the AU.'

About two weeks ago in Washington DC, an ECOWAS delegation led by the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma and Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister, Odein Ajumogobia, met with top U.S. officials on how to work together on the Gbagbo dilemma in Ivory Coast. Sources said that at the meeting, both Nigeria and the U.S. agreed to toe a common line and ultimately use the military option through ECOWAS to remove Gbagbo if he fails to step down voluntarily.