Ouattara calls for cocoa export ban
Abidjan - Ivory Coast's internationally recognised leader called for a one-month ban on cocoa exports from the world's largest producer starting on Monday, a move that could cut off one of the last sources of funding to the incumbent leader who refuses to cede power.
The statement from Alassane Ouattara's camp comes at the height of Ivory Coast's cocoa export season, though it is unclear whether the ban will be heeded by cocoa growers or how it will be enforced.
"The government informs all the economic operators of the immediate halt to all coffee and cocoa exports," the statement said late on Sunday, adding that anyone who didn't follow the order would be "subject to national and international sanctions".
While the United Nations, US, France and the African Union have endorsed Ouattara's presidency, he is attempting to run the country from a hotel being protected by the UN peacekeepers. Incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, who has been in power for a decade, still controls the country's military and security forces.
Port authorities in Ivory Coast are believed to be staunchly pro-Gbagbo, but both men draw support from the West African nation's cocoa farmers.
The export ban is aimed at further stepping up pressure on Gbagbo, who lost a key ally on Saturday when the president of the regional central bank resigned amid accusations that he was funneling funds to Gbagbo despite a bank order to cut him off from state coffers.
It remains unclear whether Gbagbo will be able to pay state salaries, due this week. Ouattara's allies hope that would set the stage for mass defections if Gbagbo cannot pay civil servants and soldiers in the military.
Gbagbo's government already has tried to order the UN peacekeepers out of the country, claiming that they are no longer impartial after the UN certified election results showing Ouattara won the November 28 presidential runoff vote. The UN Security Council voted last week though to send an additional 2 000 troops.
The West African bloc of countries known as Ecowas has threatened to oust Gbagbo by force if negotiations fail, but has set no deadline for such an intervention.
Ivory Coast was divided into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south by a 2002-2003 civil war. The country was officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal, but the long-delayed presidential election was intended to help reunify the nation. Instead, the UN says at least 260 people have been killed in violence since the vote.