- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 4, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Nigeria’s president warned Tuesday that a solution to Ivory Coast’s deepening political crisis will take time, after the internationally recognized winner of the election said a military intervention now should be considered to oust the incumbent.

A high-level regional delegation paid renegade leader Laurent Gbagbo a second visit on Monday to persuade him to step down, but he rebuffed their appeal. Leaders from the West African nations of Benin, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone then traveled to Nigeria to meet with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the current chairman of the 15-nation regional bloc ECOWAS.

“Anything that has to do with crisis in nation, it takes time,” Mr. Jonathan told reporters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, where meetings were ongoing Tuesday. “Don’t expect that if there is a major crisis in a country, you just jump in in one week and the matter is resolved.”

ECOWAS has threatened to use military force to oust Mr. Gbagbo, who has clung to power more than a month after the United Nations said he lost the presidential runoff vote to rival Alassane Ouattara after a decade in power. The delegation’s first effort last week to force him into exile failed, and there were no signs that Mr. Gbagbo had softened his position after Monday’s follow-up meeting.

“For us, the discussion is finished,” Mr. Ouattara said after meeting with the African leaders on Monday. They had presented Mr. Gbagbo with an amnesty deal if he steps down.

Col. Mohammed Yerima, a Nigerian military spokesman, said defense chiefs from ECOWAS member states met last week to begin strategizing what sort of assault they would use if talks fail. Analysts, though, have questioned how quickly ECOWAS could mobilize a force and whether they could remove Mr. Gbagbo without a full-scale invasion resulting in heavy civilian casualties.

Despite increasing international pressure, including visa bans by the European Union and the United States, Mr. Gbagbo has stayed in power with the backing of the army. Human rights groups accuse his security forces of abducting and killing hundreds of political opponents. The United Nations has been barred entry from a building believed to be housing 60 to 80 of the bodies.

Even as Mr. Gbagbo’s meeting with the African leaders was going on, his closest advisers continued to insist that the 65-year-old had won the election.

Mr. Ouattara has been shut out of the institutions of power in Ivory Coast but is attempting to govern from a hotel in Abidjan where he and his staff are barricaded behind sandbags and razor wire. He is protected by United Nations peacekeepers, but Mr. Gbagbo’s security forces have set up checkpoints on the roads leading to the hotel, barring anyone from entering or exiting.

In recent weeks, getting supplies to the Golf Hotel has become increasingly difficult, and the United Nations started running daily helicopter flights that land on the hotel’s lawn ferrying cartons of vegetables and tins of powdered milk.

In Washington, U.S. officials said they remain willing to help Mr. Gbagbo make a “dignified exit,” including revisiting the visa ban so he can travel to the United States and take up a possible teaching position. They said the window of opportunity rapidly is closing.

“We hope that President Gbagbo will listen intently to the message that he needs to step down,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. “So far, he hasn’t.”

President Obama tried to call Mr. Gbagbo three times last month, including twice from Air Force One. He did not reach Mr. Gbagbo, and at one point Mr. Obama was told that Mr. Gbagbo was “resting.” 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 steps down.

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 who requested anonymity to speak about administration strategy.

Mr. Gbagbo came to power in 2000 and ruled during the civil war that erupted two years later, then overstayed his legal term, which expired in 2005, claiming the country was too unstable to organize a poll. The election was rescheduled at least six times before it finally was held in October.

Associated Press writers Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria; Tom Maliti in Nairobi, Kenya; Julie Pace in Honolulu; and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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