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26 February 2024

Militaries ready to act in I Coast standoff


West African armies are ready to intervene in the Ivory Coast, where Laurent Gbagbo has refused to give up the presidency, and only need the political nod to go ahead, a Nigerian general said Thursday.

West African nations have threatened to send in troops to dislodge Gbagbo who has refused to step aside after a November 28 presidential election that the election commission says he lost.

"We are ready on the military level. It is up to heads of state to give us instructions," General Olusegun Petinrin said after Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) military chiefs wrapped up talks in Mali.

The meeting that opened in the capital Bamako on Tuesday was devoted largely to planning for using military force, if called on, to make Gbagbo cede power to rival Alassane Ouattara, the recognised election winner.

"We are now waiting to hear from the heads of state: if they tell us to go to the Ivory Coast to restore democracy, we will go," a military source told AFP.

Another officer from Nigeria, whose President Goodluck Jonathan is the current ECOWAS chairman, said the regional force would work with the UN operation in Ivory Coast "if the military intervention is decided."

The UN has about 9,500 soldiers in Ivory Coast and agreed Wednesday to deploy 2,000 more, despite Gbagbo's demands for the force to leave the country.

The Ivory Coast's Constitutional Council declared Gbagbo winner of the vote but most of the international community backs the election commission's decision in support of his rival.

ECOWAS, which suspended the regional economic powerhouse in early December, has threatened the military option should mediation fail to persuade Gbagbo to leave peacefully.

The latest attempt to mediate an end to the crisis ended in failure this week with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, an envoy of the African Union, leaving Ivory Coast on Wednesday with no breakthrough.

Odinga was in Angola on Thursday and planned to later travel to South Africa for talks on the crisis, his spokesman Dennis Onyango said.

He dismissed comments from Gbagbo's foreign minister that the Kenyan leader was no longer wanted as mediator in Ivory Coast.
"He did not go there to negotiate with Gbagbo," Onyango told AFP. "He is AU envoy and whatever Gbagbo's people say about his mediation does not matter. His rejection does not matter. He is AU envoy."

"(Odinga's) mandate is that the AU has decided that Gbagbo has lost," Onyango said.

"He gave him the message. He rejected it because he did not move from his position. The PM made it very clear if the AU position of peaceful resolution failed, force will be used."

Odinga travelled to neighbouring Ghana, which opposes using force in the crisis, after leaving Ivory Coast on Wednesday, then to Mali and Burkina Faso. All three are ECOWAS members.

He was due to meet Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos later in the day, with Angola one of the few countries to have shown support for Gbagbo.

A report from a meeting of ECOWAS military chiefs in December talks of the need for Gbagbo to be removed "from power as soon as possible so the legitimate government can be put in place and start its work".

It outlines an intervention force headed by Nigeria which would also provide the most troops including a combat squadron and attack helicopters.