Ivory Coast's Ouattara makes final offer to Gbagbo

AP News
Posted: Mar 15, 2011 6:39 PM
Ivory Coast's Ouattara makes final offer to Gbagbo

Ivory Coast's democratically elected leader extended an olive branch on Tuesday to the country's former president who is refusing to cede power, offering him a national unity government, a fusion of their armed forces and a truth and reconciliation commission in a last-ditch effort to avoid civil war.

Alassane Ouattara made the offer during a televised address, broadcast from the hotel where he has been confined since the November election, his exits sealed by soldiers loyal to the ex-president.

His offer is "the last chance for a peaceful and honorable resolution" to the crisis, Ouattara said.

Ouattara, who has already been recognized by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, was certified as the legitimate president by an African Union panel last week, a decision immediately rejected by incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who maintains that he won the election.

"The debate over the presidential election is over," Ouattara said. "It is time to build our country and reconcile all Ivorians."

The offer came as troops loyal to Gbagbo were accused of committing war crimes by the New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch, which said that the abuses are grave enough to warrant the intervention of the United Nations Security Council.

"The targeted killings, enforced disappearances, politically motivated rapes, and persecution of West African nationals over a three-month period demonstrate a policy of systematic violence by security forces under the control of Gbagbo and militias long loyal to him," said the report, released Tuesday.

The group echoed U.N. warnings to Gbagbo that evidence of these crimes is being collected for a future war crimes trial.

But the group also said that as forces loyal to Ouattara have begun to fight back in recent weeks, there have been reports of revenge killings by those troops, muddying the moral high ground of Ouattara's victory.

On Tuesday, reports emerged of pro-Ouattara fighters advancing into a downtown neighborhood of the commercial capital Abidjan for the first time. Local radio reported that four pro-Gbagbo youth were killed in an attack on their barricade in the upscale II Plateaux district.

Advisors to Ouattara say his address to the nation is meant to be a final appeal to Gbagbo to leave peacefully. His concessions mirror the proposal put forward by the African Union last week, which called on Ouattara to appoint members of Gbagbo's political party to a unity government, an idea Ouattara has said he has embraced since the campaign ahead of last year's vote.

The AU has appointed a high-level mediator who has been given a deadline of two weeks to try to implement the AU decision, which calls on the country's highest court to swear in Ouattara as president.

An armed group loyal to Ouattara has already taken control of the northern section of the commercial capital, as well as several towns in the country's far West. The rebels claim they have vowed to fight their way to the presidential palace if Gbagbo refuses to go.