Clock ticking for Ivory Coast peace
Nairobi - Time is running out for a peaceful solution to Ivory Coast's political crisis, African Union envoy Raila Odinga said on Wednesday after the latest attempt to negotiate a deal between the country's rival leaders failed.
Odinga, who is prime minister of Kenya, travelled to Ivory Coast on Monday for a second attempt at convincing defiant leader Laurent Gbagbo to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara - the man the world recognises as the rightful winner of November's presidential election.
Odinga said in a statement - which came as Switzerland's federal government blocked assets held by Gbagbo in the European country - that discussions with both men failed to bring a breakthrough.
"With internal tensions and hardships already mounting and bound to escalate amid the destabilising uncertainty about the future, time is running out for an amicably negotiated settlement," he said.
Ivory Coast was plunged into a violent crisis when a Gbagbo ally on the constitutional council overturned electoral commission results handing victory in November's presidential elections to Ouattara.
Almost 250 people have died in the violence, according to the United Nations, and Gbagbo's security forces stand accused of extra-judicial killings and excessive force.
The West African bloc Ecowas has said it could use force should Gbagbo not step down, and Odinga repeated the threat - although he said he was still hopeful of finding a peaceful resolution.
Ghana may change stance
"No one in Ivory Coast should contemplate the alternative path to resolving this electoral impasse, which would require additional punishing economic and financial sanctions, and possibly the use of force that both the African Union and Ecowas have set as their last resort," he said.
Gbagbo and his allies are also resisting travel bans and asset freezes from the US and Britain, as well as cuts to aid from development banks.
Odinga went straight to Ghana on Wednesday after leaving Ivory Coast, where he held talks with President John Atta Mills.
Ghana earlier said it was against military intervention and ruled out sending troops - a stance that undermined the Ecowas threat.
However, Odinga's spokesperson Dennis Onyango said Mills had promised the Kenyan premier he would back the Ecowas position on using force as a last resort, although the Ghanaian president still said his country could not commit soldiers to an intervention force.
Odinga was due to visit Mali and Burkina Faso on Wednesday, and then leave for South Africa on Thursday as he drums up support for the AU and Ecowas position, Onyango said.
Return to war
Domestic attempts to pressure Gbagbo, who has control of the military and state television, are also proving ineffective.
Allies of Ouattara, who is holed up in a UN-protected hotel, called for a general strike to begin on Tuesday, but the demand was largely ignored - as were previous calls for industrial action.
November's elections were supposed to open a more positive chapter in Ivory Coast's history eight years after civil war split the world's biggest cocoa producer into the mainly Muslim north, which backs Ouattara, and the Christian south, where Gbagbo holds sway.
Instead they raised fears of a return to war, prompting tens of thousands of Ivorians to flee the country.
Tension is growing and United Nations peacekeepers are coming under increasing attack after defying Gbagbo's order to leave the country.
The UN Security Council was Wednesday expected to approve sending an extra 2 000 peacekeepers, bringing the strength of the force close to 12 000.