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Ivory Coast leader intensifies stand-off with world

by Staff Writers
Abidjan (AFP) Jan 7, 2011
Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo's stand-off with the world intensified Friday after Britain and Canada rejected his expulsion of their envoys, insisting they only recognise his rival.

But with the crisis escalating as regional powers mull military intervention to remove Gbagbo in favour of the man the world says beat him democratically, Alassane Ouattara, neighbouring Ghana said it opposed the use of force.

Gbagbo's increasingly isolated government said late Thursday that the two ambassadors were no longer welcome but London and Ottawa reiterated that they only recognised statements made by Ouattara.

Britain's Foreign Office said it "does not accept the validity of statements made by" anyone other than Ouattara, who has been holed up in an Abidjan hotel for weeks, besieged by Ivorian troops who remain loyal to Gbagbo.

Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said that Canada "does not recognise Laurent Gbagbo's claim to government. As such, his request is illegitimate".

Ouattara is the internationally recognised winner of a November 28 presidential run-off but Gbagbo's government has said it would expel envoys whose countries ended its ambassadors' accreditations.

Former colonial power France, which has a much larger diplomatic mission in Abidjan, has also said it no longer recognises Gbagbo's ambassador but Paris' envoy remains in place in Ivory Coast's commercial capital.

Ouattara himself has called for a "non-violent operation" by west African special forces to snatch Gbagbo and thus head off the threat of civil war.

The latest bid by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc and the African Union to mediate an end to the crisis that has seen at least 210 people killed floundered on Tuesday.

Regional leaders have said they could carry out an armed intervention if mediation efforts fail, but the president of ECOWAS member Ghana, John Atta Mills, said Friday his country was opposed to the use of force.

"Ghana is not taking sides in the crisis... but will support any government in Ivory Coast," he told reporters. "Some of us believe in diplomacy in solving problems rather than military intervention."

"We have about one million Ghanaians living in Ivory Coast who could be victims of any military intervention. We do not want the influx of Ivorians into Ghana, which obviously comes with its problems," he said.

Ghana's defence minister has already said his country would not send troops to Ivory Coast as part of plans to force Gbagbo out.

Ouattara is protected at the besieged Golf Hotel by around 800 UN peacekeepers as well as the ex-rebel New Forces allied with his camp since troops shot dead several of his supporters on December 16.

African powerhouses Nigeria and South Africa held more talks on efforts to persuade Gbagbo to step down, with Nigeria's foreign minister saying military force remained on the table to resolve what he called a "global problem".

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is the current chairman of ECOWAS.

November's election was supposed to end a decade of unrest that has split the country between north and south, but has instead descended into a stand-off that has seen more than 22,000 Ivorians fleeing the country amid fears of a return to civil war.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy has said he will seek an extra 1,000 to 2,000 reinforcements for the over 9,500-strong mission in coming days, with the Security Council to vote on renewing the force's monthly mandate on January 17.

A European diplomatic source in Brussels said that it was probable that China would support such a move and send in its own UN-mandated peacekeepers.

"Africa interests them and the Europeans haven't warmed to the idea, especially the British," the diplomat told AFP.

Chinese peacekeepers have notably previously been deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Sudan.


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