West African leaders held emergency talks yesterday in Abuja on the Ivory Coast crisis with the United States searching for more UN troops and France offering Laurent Gbagbo a final chance to step aside.
The summit came after a UN body demanded a halt to “atrocities” in Ivory Coast and the Central Bank of West African States blocked Gbagbo’s access to finances following the World Bank’s earlier move to freeze loans.
Much of the world, including the United Nations, has recognised Gbagbo’s rival Alassane Ouattara as the winner of last month’s elections, but the strongman has refused to budge in the face of mounting calls for him to leave.
The financial measures may make it difficult for Gbagbo to pay salaries for soldiers and others, and Nigeria’s foreign minister, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia sought to keep the pressure on him as leaders arrived for the ECOWAS summit.
“The question of compromise is not on the table,” Mr. Ajumogobia told AFP ahead of the special summit of the 15_member Economic Community of West African States.
“Something like a unity government or the sort of thing we have in Kenya and Zimbabwe are not on the table. We are resolute that Gbagbo has to step down.”
Leaders from Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo, Niger, Senegal, Benin, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea_Bissau had arrived for the talks.
The meeting was the second special summit on Ivory Coast this month after ECOWAS suspended the country from the group at the first gathering and called on Gbagbo to cede power.
Some analysts have said the bloc could impose individual sanctions such as travel restrictions, but officials were tight_lipped over what was on the table at the summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
The United States has also said it is talking with regional countries from ECOWAS about boosting the 9,000_strong UN mission in Ivory Coast.
French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Friday that Gbagbo could still step down honourably, but warned that time was growing short.
“Mr Gbagbo still has the possibility of leaving this situation with dignity by recognising what the results are and by handing over power,” she told French radio.
“He has the right to a completely honourable exit… but the more time passes and the more things get out of control and there’s violence, the more this possibility distances itself.”
Both US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have spoken by phone on the crisis to their Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan, the current ECOWAS chairman who has offered to help Gbagbo and his family resettle.
A Dutch navy supply ship, the Amsterdam, was also on its way to the Ivory Coast to provide mainly food and fuel to French vessels located off the coast.
The ship can also be used for security operations and evacuations, officials said.
On Thursday, the UN Human Rights Council passed by consensus a resolution strongly condemning abductions and killings in Ivory Coast’s post-election violence and expressing concern about “atrocities”.
The move at a special session on the Ivorian crisis called by Nigeria on behalf of African states and the United States marked a rare display of unity by the world body’s Geneva-based rights assembly.
The vote came after a senior UN rights official told the council that her staff had gathered credible reports of at least 173 killed over the past week in Ivory Coast as well as allegations of mass graves.
A senior UN official was stopped at gunpoint as he sought to verify the allegations in the west African country, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang said.
One analyst said targeted sanctions may be the likely path for ECOWAS for now.