Ghana neutral on Ivory Coast

2011-01-07 16:25

Accra - The president of Ghana said on Friday his country would not take sides in a political standoff in neighbouring Ivory Coast and he did not believe using force would solve the problem.

The stance of one of West Africa's main powers underscores divisions in the region over how to end the crisis in Ivory Coast, which has been in turmoil since a November 28 election claimed by both incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara.

World leaders have recognised Ouattara as winner and the West African regional bloc Ecowas has threatened to oust Gbagbo by force.

Gbagbo has so far resisted all threats, and any military effort would be politically and logistically daunting.

"Ghana is not taking sides, and Ghana will support any government," President John Atta Mills said in a speech on Friday. "I personally do not think the military option will solve the problem in Ivory Coast."

Mills said military planners had warned him that Ghana's forces were over-stretched and added that, in taking the decision not to contribute troops to an Ecowas intervention force, he had considered the safety of Ghanaian expatriates.

The pro-Gbagbo newspaper Notre Voie has warned foreign residents that an Ecowas military intervention would "endanger its citizens living here".

Ivory Coast, the world's biggest cocoa grower, has attracted millions of people from neighbouring countries seeking work and analysts have said they would be vulnerable to retaliatory attacks by pro-Gbagbo mobs.

The election was due to reunite the country after a 2002-03 civil war split it in two, with rebels controlling the north. It has instead deepened divisions between the pro-Ouattara north and Gbagbo's mostly southern supporters.

The United Nations says at least 210 people have beem killed in violence since the election, including 14 in inter-ethnic violence in the western town of Duekoue in recent days.

UN agencies said they were planning to set up camps in neighbouring Liberia to house and feed the thousands of refugees who are fleeing Ivory Coast, fearing large-scale violence.

Ouattara offers Gbagbo amnesty

Earlier on Friday, Ouattara promised Gbagbo, in power for a decade but as an un-elected leader since 2005, an amnesty.

"For me, peace has no price. That's why I am willing to declare an amnesty for Gbagbo... But he has to accept rapidly, because he's a person with blood on his hands," Ouattara told the French newspaper Le Figaro.

Gbagbo retains the support of the army, so regional forces risk heavy fighting if they intervene, though Ouattara has called for a surgical strike to remove Gbagbo and his supporters, rather than all-out war.

"Gbagbo will fall like a rotten fruit from a tree," he told journalists at his headquarters in the palm-fringed Golf Hotel, guarded by UN peacekeepers and blockaded by Ivorian troops.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, a Gbagbo ally, has also rejected the idea of an Ecowas intervention.

Western powers are stepping up their efforts to isolate Gbagbo through targeted sanctions.

The United States, which has imposed travel bans on Gbagbo supporters, on Thursday barred US citizens from financial dealings with Gbagbo, his wife and members of his inner circle.

European Union diplomats say the EU is set to follow suit by imposing an asset freeze in the coming weeks, tantamount to a ban on financial dealings.

"It would mean that no EU citizen can have any commercial links with Gbagbo, or they can but cannot pay for anything," said one EU diplomat.

The UN refugee agency said in Geneva it was in talks with Liberia to set up camps for refugees from Ivory Coast, already totalling 23 000 and streaming across the border at a rate of 500 a day.

The UN World Food Programme has sent food supplies to Liberia for distribution to refugees, and the UN Children's Fund is seeking funds to provide displaced Ivorian children and women with medical and educational help, their spokesmen said.

The UN General Assembly has agreed to recognise only Ouattara's ambassadors.

Gbagbo's government removed the British and Canadian ambassadors' accreditation in retaliation for their de-recognising of his ambassadors.

Both said they recognised only Ouattara's government statements as legitimate.

The West African regional central bank has said it no longer recognises Gbagbo's authority to access accounts and will instead recognise Ouattara.

It is not clear if the decision has yet been implemented.