ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said an African effort to mediate Ivory Coast’s disputed poll had failed on Wednesday, and Laurent Gbagbo rejected him as mediator after Odinga warned he faced harsh sanctions or force.
Gbagbo’s rival Alassane Ouattara was proclaimed winner of a November 28 poll by the electoral commission and is internationally recognised as president-elect, but Gbagbo has refused to go, alleging rigging.
He maintains control of the security forces, much of the cocoa sector and state institutions.
“Despite extensive discussions ... with Mr Laurent Gbagbo and President-elect Alassane Ouattara, that went very late into the night, I regret to announce that the breakthrough that was needed, did not materialise,” Odinga told reporters at the airport as he was about to leave.
“Time is running out,” the African Union’s (AU) mediator for Ivory Coast said of efforts to peacefully resolve a stand-off which risks reigniting a 2002-3 civil war that divided the world’s top cocoa growing nation in two.
He said concerned nations “might be forced to take other measures ... which would require additional punishing financial sanctions, and possibly the use of force,” against Gbagbo.
It was the strongest statement by a visiting mediator to Ivory Coast in its decade-long crisis and Gbabgo’s camp said it would no longer accept Odinga as go-between.
“Mr. Odinga has failed in his mission and we are no longer prepared to receive him,” Gbagbo’s foreign minister Alcide Djedje told journalists. “He took the side of Mr. Ouattara.”
Odinga blamed Gbagbo for the breakdown in talks, noting he had promised to lift a military siege on the hotel where Ouattara’s parallel government remains under U.N. guard.
“He broke that promise, for the second time in two weeks,” Odinga said.
In the post-poll chaos, Ivory Coast missed a payment on its 1.4 billion pound bond at the end of December, but has until February 1 before it goes into default.
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday overcame Russian objections and unanimously agreed to send 2,000 additional peacekeepers to Ivory Coast, where U.N. staff and vehicles are increasingly under attack by pro-Gbagbo security forces and allied militias or mobs.
Gbagbo aide Alain Toussaint told Reuters in Paris: “We will resist this new contingent’s arrival by all means, as Laurent Gbagbo reiterated his call last week for the withdrawal of the blue helmets.”
If negotiations fail, it remains unclear whether tougher sanctions or a military intervention would be forthcoming.
The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while efforts continue to squeeze his access to funds, with little impact yet.
The latest measure saw EU-registered vessels barred from new financial dealings with Ivorian ports but cocoa exporters say operations are normal and the flow of beans is running higher than last year.
The Swiss government said it would freeze any assets Gbagbo has, though it is not known how much of his fortune, if any, is stashed away in Swiss bank accounts.
Gbagbo apparently still has access to 1 billion pounds of reserves at the state accounts in francophone West Africa’s central bank, despite a statement in late December that suggested the monetary union did not recognise him.
U.N. mission chief Y.J. Choi told a news conference on Tuesday: “We know pressure from outside, especially the ... monetary union, is (being) felt by President Gbagbo’s camp.”
Odinga said force was a “last resort,” as West African regional bloc ECOWAS threatened; but doubts have grown over the feasibility and the region is seen as divided over it.
Military chiefs of West African regional bloc ECOWAS met in Mali on Tuesday to discuss the planning of an ouster of Gbagbo.
In an interview to be published in French newspaper La Croix on Thursday and seen by Reuters, Ouattara was asked if ECOWAS was likely to move from threats to action on the ground.
“Everything’s in the process of being put in place. Military intervention is already planned,” Ouattara was quoted as saying.
The U.N. mission estimates at least 247 people have been killed since the dispute began, many in night-time raids by security forces or allied militias against residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods. Gbagbo’s camp denies this.
Additional reporting by Gerard Bon in Paris and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Jason Neely