COTE D IVOIRE: President says peacekeepers can leave

Thursday, September 21, 2006
The United Nations and French peacekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire can leave the country if they want to, President Laurent Gbagbo said in an interview published just ahead of a crucial meeting on the nation’s faltering peace process.

"If they want to leave, they can leave," Gbagbo said in an interview with the French daily Le Monde published on Tuesday. "I haven't asked them to, but I am thinking of an alternative [peace] plan that I will propose to the African Union."

There was no immediate response from the rebel New Forces to Gbagbo's statements.

Gbagbo has boycotted a fresh round of talks with international mediators at the UN headquarters in New York scheduled for late Wednesday to resolve the deadlock that has kept the country split into a rebel-held north and a government-run south for four years.

At the end of October, a UN-backed peace plan drafted by the African Union (AU) expires, and West African leaders are working out a new strategy to reunite the divided country and organise presidential elections seen as crucial to restoring stability.

But Gbagbo told Le Monde that the peace process has failed and that he had lost faith in the 10,000 French and UN peacekeepers overseeing a ceasefire.

"I don't expect peace to come from them. I don't expect anything anymore, because their plan has failed. They haven't understood that this country is not Liberia, nor Somalia, that our institutions work," he said. "The time for proposals and negotiations is over. I have done everything they asked me to do and the rebels have not disarmed."

Gbagbo's comments coincided with the fourth anniversary of the September 2002 coup d'etat, which launched a brief civil war but ultimately failed to topple him.

Analysts say a new peace plan is likely to strengthen the powers of Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, who is charged with organising disarmament, identification and twice-delayed elections, while relegating Gbagbo to a more ceremonial role.

But Gbagbo, whose five-year term expired last year and was extended until 31 October, insisted that he has no plans to budge, saying his power comes from "the will of the population and not from people sitting behind a desk".

The interview came days after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Gbagbo against “inflammatory rhetoric” that could fuel political tension in Cote d'Ivoire.

On Monday, China and Russia blocked proposed UN sanctions against two hardline Gbagbo supporters, Mamadou Koulibaly, speaker of the National Assembly, and Pascal Affi N'Guessan, chairman of the ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI). The two men are held responsible for delaying the identification programme meant to provide an estimated three million people with identity papers.

The Economist Intelligence Unit on Tuesday said Cote d’Ivoire’s problems would likely continue because some of the protagonists don’t want a resolution.

“Cote d’Ivoire will remain a divided country well into the future, particularly as interests on both sides continue to benefit from the partition, although the ongoing presence of international peacekeepers makes it likely that full-scale military conflict will be held at bay,” the EIU said.
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN
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