- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast | The internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast’s presidential election said Wednesday that a military operation to oust his rival wouldn’t have to cause a war, as a top mediator warned that force should only be a last resort.

The 15-nation regional bloc ECOWAS has threatened to remove incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo if ongoing negotiations fail, though some analysts question whether ECOWAS could carry out such a mission without a full-scale invasion and civilian casualties.

“It will not end in a war because clearly ECOWAS will make the decision quickly to remove him and removing him does not mean civil war in Ivory Coast,” Alassane Ouattara said in an interview with Associated Press Television News in Abidjan. “I want this to be clear. Removing one person does not mean civil war.”

While the United Nations and other world powers recognize Mr. Ouattara as the winner, Mr. Gbagbo has refused to step down for more than a month after the presidential runoff vote.

Mr. Gbagbo, who has been in power for a decade, maintains control of the military and human rights groups accuse his security forces of killing political opponents.

The African Union’s envoy to Ivory Coast said Wednesday that a military ouster should only be a last resort.

“Lives will be lost, not just lives of soldiers but also lives of innocent civilians,” Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told journalists in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, after his visits to Ivory Coast and Nigeria this week. “That’s really the reason why we are walking the extra mile for a peaceful resolution of this conflict.”

Mr. Odinga represented the African Union when a high-level regional delegation went to Abidjan on Monday for the second time to urge Mr. Gbagbo to leave. He has rebuffed their appeals and shown no interest in handing over power to Mr. Ouattara.

The delegation, which included leaders from the nations of Benin, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone, then traveled to Nigeria to meet with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, chairman of the 15-nation regional bloc known as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

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