Ivory Coast unity government is possible – UN envoy

London – Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara could form a unity government with incumbent Laurent Gbagbo’s followers if the strongman dropped his claim to the presidency, the country’s UN envoy said today.

Ivory Coast UN ambassador Youssoufou Bamba, appointed by Ouattara and admitted as envoy at the UN headquarters in New York last month, urged Gbagbo to concede to Ouattara in an interview with the BBC yesterday.

Ouattara had won the disputed election, had been recognised by the international community and was the “legitimate president”, he added.

“And from there, Mr Gbagbo is not alone,” Bamba, who was recently appointed to the UN by Ouattara, told the British broadcaster.

“He has followers.

He has competent people in his party.

Those people, we are prepared to work with them in the framework of a wide composite cabinet.”

Ouattara is recognised by the UN and most of the international community as the winner of a November 28 presidential runoff in the west African nation, but Gbagbo claims to have won the vote and is clinging to power.

Repeated efforts by regional leaders to break the political deadlock have so far failed and Ouattara is holed up in a hotel under UN guard in Abidjan, besieged by Ivorian troops who remain loyal to Gbagbo.

The crisis has claimed at least 210 lives and led to more than 22 000 Ivorians fleeing the country amid fears of a return to civil war.

Speaking from UN headquarters in New York, Bamba said Ouattara could work with Gbagbo, but insisted that the embattled strongman must concede defeat before any talks on the matter were opened.

“Yes he could work with him [Gbagbo] because he is an Ivorian citizen,” he was cited as saying.

But he added: “What I am saying should be clear.

The win by Mr Ouattara could not be put into question anymore.

If Mr Gbagbo accepts that, we could negotiate.

Otherwise, I could not understand how it could be otherwise.”

If Gbagbo gave up his claim to power, that would be “the starting point” for talks, said the envoy.

“I think from there, everything is open.

It’s on the table. But first of all, Mr Gbagbo should step down,” he added.

Gbagbo and his supporters are becoming increasingly isolated as international powers ramp up pressure on the strongman to step aside.

This was highlighted last week when Gbagbo ordered the expulsion of the Canadian and British envoys – only to be told that neither London and nor Ottawa recognised the legitimacy of his actions.

Ouattara is protected at the besieged Golf Hotel in Abidjan by 800 UN peacekeepers as well as the ex-rebel New Forces allied with his camp since troops shot dead several of his supporters on December 16.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was the latest regional figure to attempt to mediate the crisis.

He left Ivory Coast yesterday after two days of trying to find a way through the deadlock.

West African bloc Ecowas has said it could use force to get rid of Gbagbo if talks failed.

November’s election was supposed to end a decade of unrest that has split the country between north and south, but has instead descended into a tense standoff.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy has said he would seek an extra 1 000 to 2 000 reinforcements for the 9 500-strong mission in coming days.

The UN Security Council will vote on renewing the force’s monthly mandate on January 17.

The Security Council on yesterday reaffirmed its support for Ouattara and again urged a peaceful end to the African nation’s political crisis.

“The members of the Security Council condemned attacks against peacekeepers and civilians,” they said in a statement.

“Those responsible for crimes against UN personnel and civilians must be held accountable,” the statement added.

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