Gbagbo playing for time - Ouattara camp
Abuja - Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo has agreed to negotiate a resolution without preconditions to the crisis gripping his country and lift a siege on his rival's headquarters, mediators said on Tuesday.
But an aide to Alassane Ouatarra, the man the world says won November's election, accused Gbagbo of playing for time and insisted the embattled leader step down to end the five-week stand-off in which almost 200 people have died.
"All we're waiting for is for him to go," Ouattara aide Ali Coulibaly told AFP. "The rest is of no interest to us."
"Gbagbo is trying to put people's consciences to sleep. His word has no importance of any kind. What does a peaceful solution mean? We want Gbagbo to go, that's all," Coulibaly said.
A day after intensive talks with both Gbagbo and Ouatarra, a group of African leaders said the embattled incumbent had promised that the dispute would be settled peacefully.
"Mr Laurent Gbagbo agreed to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis without any preconditions," the African Union and Ecowas mediators said in a joint statement.
"He (Gbagbo) also pledged to immediately lift the blockade around Hotel du Golf, the temporary HQ of Mr Alassane Ouattara, the president-elect," it said.
No power sharing
Ecowas stressed that military intervention in Ivory Coast was still an option if talks failed to end the impasse, while the African Union envoy, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, excluded any kind of power-sharing deal.
"A military option is still on the cards," the regional commission's chief James Victor Gbeho said.
"It is without doubt that the Ecowas position is that if there is no joy in exploiting the peaceful situation then the military objective can also be considered as a tool for sustainable resolution of the crisis," Gbeho said.
West African regional military chiefs met in Abuja last week and set in motion plans to oust Gbagbo if negotiations fail, according to a Nigerian defence spokesperson.
A follow-up meeting to fine-tune the "last-resort" plan is scheduled for January 17 and 18 in Mali.
Odinga, who himself became premier as part of a power-sharing agreement after a disputed December 2007 presidential election that sparked deadly riots, said power-sharing would not be possible.
Odinga has repeatedly complained that he and his party got the rough end of the stick in the agreement.
"I did tell him (Gbagbo) that that option is not available here. The Kenyan solution is not really a solution at all. If followed, it will actually hamper the democratisation process on the continent," he told journalists.
Ouattara has been blockaded by Gbagbo's forces at an Abidjan resort hotel throughout the five-week crisis, protected by UN troops and allied former rebel fighters from the north of the formerly divided country.
Coulibaly said that "the situation is the same" around the Golf Hotel despite the reported pledge of an immediate lifting of the blockade.
Nigeria's president, who also heads the Ecowas regional bloc, said earlier that the crisis was deadlocked and the current head of the African Union voiced dismay over the slow pace of negotiations.
"There is still a stalemate," President Goodluck Jonathan told reporters after talks with the envoys.
"Don't expect that if there is a major crisis in a country, you just jump in in one week and that matter is resolved. It takes a lot of international pressure to convince people like that," Jonathan said.
With the clock ticking, a senior US state department official said that Gbagbo, who has relatives in Atlanta, Georgia, could seek refuge there but that the offer would not last long.
Ivory Coast's Independent Electoral Commission as well as the UN declared Ouattara the winner of the November 28 runoff poll, while the Constitutional Council said that Gbagbo won.
Both men have been sworn in as president and Gbagbo claims there is an international plot to depose him after more than a decade in power.
Gbagbo, who retains control of the army, rejected the Ecowas attempt last week to persuade him to step down and end the crisis that has sparked international condemnation and fears of a civil war.
The UN says that at least 179 people have been killed in post-election violence but that it has been unable to fully investigate because of attacks on its personnel, while UN rapporteurs said they feared the violations being committed amounted to "crimes against humanity".