Paris (AFP) Jan 19, 2011
West African armies are making preparations to invade Ivory Coast to overthrow strongman Laurent Gbagbo, his rival Alassane Ouattara claimed Wednesday in an interview with French daily La Croix.
"Everything is being put in place," said Ouattara, who was recognised as the winner of November's Ivorian presidential election by the international community but has been unable to take power as Gbagbo clings on.
"Military intervention is already planned, organised. It will be given a timetable. I spoke with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday, he assured me of his determination," Ouattara said.
Jonathan is the current chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional bloc which has recognised Ouattara's victory and has demanded Gbagbo step down.
Senior ECOWAS military officers met this week in Mali to draw up plans for a possible military intervention. In his La Croix interview, Ouattara claimed planning was at an advanced stage.
"That's why the chiefs of staff met Tuesday in Bamako. Arrangements are being made for them to make a reconnaissance visit to Bouake, which could be a staging point for the soldiers," he said.
Bouake is a central Ivorian town that is held by the former rebels of the so-called New Forces, which have thrown their support behind Ouattara.
It would be easier for ECOWAS troops to gather there than on territory held by Gbagbo's loyalist Defence and Security Forces, but the regime could be expected paint such as move as foreign support for rebels.
But Ouattara insisted military intervention could succeed.
"Ivory Coast can't continue like that, with a man who mistakes himself for the president. He's a clown, and it's tragic for our country," he said.
Ouattara said that if ECOWAS does not send troops, he could bring hundreds of thousands of supporters into the streets to challenge Gbagbo's rule through unarmed civil disobedience.
But he said that if he did this he feared a repeat of the bloody repression that met a protest march on December 16, in which dozens were killed, and that many more Ivorians would die.
"I prefer the ECOWAS way. In effect, to carry out an exfiltration," he said. "It's about coming to get Laurent Gbagbo, as has been done for other heads of state in Africa and elsewhere.
"If his loyalists try to hang on, they'll pay for it. This solution is better that thousands of deaths."
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