Ivory Coast pays government workers, stalemate continues

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:05 PM

By Tim Cocks

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo has paid over 60 percent of civil servant salaries, his government said, suggesting Western sanctions meant to starve him of funds and force him to leave have not had full effect.

The north of the country, which mostly supports Gbagbo's opponent Alassane Ouattara, remained without electricity and water service, but a week of clashes between supporters of the two rivals appeared to have eased.

There is little hope for African leaders meeting in Mauritania on Friday to quickly resolve the crisis in the world's top cocoa grower, sparked by Gbagbo refusing to step down after a November election that internationally certified results showed Ouattara had won.

The United Nations says at least 365 people have been killed during the crisis and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes, with some 200,000 leaving the Abidjan neighborhood of Abobo alone during days of urban warfare.

International cocoa futures have been regularly breaking new 32-year highs on supply fears due to the violence.

Gbagbo's government in a statement late on Thursday said it had paid the salaries of more than 60,000 civil servants, or about 62 percent of the salary roll.

As part of broader efforts to show the situation was under control, his government also opened the recently nationalized local unit of BNP Paribas, and customers rushed to withdraw cash that has dried up as the banking sector collapsed in recent weeks.

There have been two days of relative calm in the main city Abidjan and elsewhere after outbreaks of heavy fighting led to warnings of a return to full-blown civil war.

But a Reuters witness in the north, which has been run by rebels since a 2002-3 war, said the region remained without water and electricity since it was cut off on February 28.

"In the past five days, we have been deprived of electricity and water. This situation is desperate. Even the hospitals aren't working," student Thierry Konan, 30, who lives in the main rebel-held city of Bouake, said.

AFRICAN DIPLOMACY, DIVISIONS

A U.N. source said the mission had been told that pro-Gbagbo forces had ordered the electricity company at the Kossou Dam, near the capital, Yamoussoukro, to cut power to the north.

Neither the government nor the rebels were immediately available to comment on the cuts, but the rebels' civilians spokesman has called it a grave human rights violation.

Gbagbo's government said on Thursday it was having to reduce consumption of electricity due to sanctions imposed on it.

In a sign it was worried about fuel supplies, it announced on state TV this week a ban on filling jerrycans with petrol.

By midday, the leaders of South Africa and Chad had arrived in Mauritania for talks on Ivory Coast. The presidents of Burkina Faso and Tanzania also were expected but expectations are low after divisions between African leaders over the crisis.

The International Crisis Group think-tank has warned that the most likely scenario was a return to armed conflict that risked dragging in regional armies, led by Burkina Faso, which has openly supported Ouattara as the elected president.

ICG called on West African leaders, under regional grouping ECOWAS, to retake the leadership in resolving the crisis.

(Additional reporting by Charles Bamba in Bouake and Ange Aboa in Abidjan; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Michael Roddy)