- Associated Press - Thursday, January 6, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast | The man recognized as the winner of Ivory Coast’s recent presidential election called Thursday for West African special forces to remove Ivory Coast’s incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, in a commando operation.

Speaking at a hotel guarded by U.N. peacekeepers, Alassane Ouattara told the Associated Press that Mr. Gbagbo’s location can be quickly identified by a team of elite troops because he “is essentially at his residence or at the presidential palace.”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has threatened military action, but in recent days African leaders have shied away from making a commitment, fearing mass casualties and a possible return to civil war.

In the AP interview, Mr. Ouattara addressed those concerns, saying that if the West African nations “do send in special forces with the objective of removing Mr. Gbagbo he will be removed, without much damage.”

He said elite forces previously have carried out similar operations in Latin America and Africa “to remove the person who is the problem.”

Mr. Ouattara spoke to AP on the lawn of the lagoon-side hotel where he and his staff have been living under protection of U.N. peacekeepers since the disputed election.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and the strongest of ECOWAS’ 15 members, has a large military and the kind of special forces soldiers Mr. Ouattara is calling for.

But participation of Nigerian commandos would require the approval of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who as recently as Tuesday said more time is needed to resolve the Ivory Coast standoff.

Some analysts question whether ECOWAS could carry out any military operation in Ivory Coast without a full-scale invasion and civilian casualties. The African Union’s envoy to Ivory Coast said Wednesday that a military ouster should be only a last resort.

At a pro-Gbagbo rally, one of the incumbent’s closest associates warned on Wednesday that any attempt to remove the 65-year-old Mr. Gbagbo by force will lead to war.

“We need to avoid that the Third World War begins in Ivory Coast. … No army in the world can come in and remove our president. It’s not in Abidjan that such a thing will happen,” said Charles Ble Goude, who heads the Young Patriots, a militialike organization.

Mr. Ouattara maintains that if ECOWAS carries out a military operation, it would not take much time or many resources and that Mr. Gbagbo would cave in immediately.

“I know Mr. Gbagbo,” Mr. Ouattara said. “If he sees that ECOWAS troops are coming to capture him, believe me, he will start running away. I know him well. He does not have the courage to face those type of situations.”

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