- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 4, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast | African leaders on Monday were offering Laurent Gbagbo an amnesty deal on the condition that he cedes the presidency peacefully to the internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast’s elections, an official said Monday.

The African heads of state traveled to Ivory Coast to give persuasion another chance before resorting to military intervention.

The presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde also visited last week without result, and this time they were joined by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga. No developments were immediately announced.

Results tallied by the country’s electoral commission and certified by the United Nations showed Mr. Gbagbo lost the November election by a nearly 9-point margin to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

Mr. Gbagbo has clung to power with the backing of the army, and human rights groups accuse his security forces of abducting and killing hundreds of political opponents. The U.N. says it also has been barred entry from two suspected mass graves.

An official from the Kenyan prime minister’s office said an offer by President Obama to seek an “international” role for Mr. Gbagbo and other countries’ offers of lectureship would be considered for the renegade Ivorian leader if he agrees to hand over power.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak with the press, said that Mr. Gbagbo would be guaranteed safety whether he chooses to stay in Ivory Coast or go elsewhere. Further details on the amnesty were not available, but the official said the deal offered by the African leaders was non-negotiable.

The three visiting presidents represent the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-member regional bloc that is threatening military action to seat Mr. Ouattara. Kenya’s prime minister is representing the African Union.

Mr. Gbagbo has dismissed the international condemnation as “a foreign plot” led by France, the country’s former colonizer. In a break with the past though, the African leaders also have taken a stance against one of their own.

Col. Mohammed Yerima, a Nigerian military spokesman, said defense chiefs from ECOWAS members met on Friday to begin strategizing what sort of assault they’d use if talks fail.

Mr. Obama tried to call Mr. Gbagbo twice last month, from Air Force One as Mr. Obama returned from Afghanistan and then a week later. Neither call reached Mr. Gbagbo; administration officials believe the Ivorian leader sought to avoid contact. So Mr. Obama wrote Mr. Gbagbo a letter, offering him an international role if he stopped clinging to power and stepped down.

But Mr. Obama also made clear that the longer Mr. Gbagbo holds on, and the more complicit he becomes in violence across the country, the more limited his options become, said a senior administration official. The official insisted on anonymity to speak about administration strategy.

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