Interview: Liberia's Sirleaf warns on Ivory Coast

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 12:21 PM
Interview: Liberia's Sirleaf warns on Ivory Coast

By Simon Akam

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's descent into violence risks wiping out hard-won security gains in West Africa unless a post-election power struggle is resolved, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf told Reuters on Monday.

"We're already at war. We hope there will not be an escalation of war," she said in an interview in her office in Liberia's capital Monrovia.

"There's been a lot of investment for peace in this sub-region -- we're beginning to see the result of the investment... If nothing is done to resolve the crisis, all of these efforts will be undermined," she warned.

Liberia is still recovering from years of civil war between 1998 and 2003, and is struggling to cope with some 90,000 Ivorian refugees who have poured across the border since a dispute over a November presidential vote turned violent.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) appealed for $46 million in aid in mid-January but with the focus of world attention on the conflict in Libya and the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan, said earlier this month barely $5 million had come.

"The UN has put out an appeal but the response has been very slow and inadequate," Johnson-Sirleaf said.

Around 400 Ivorians have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in a dispute over a November 28 presidential vote which U.N.-certified results showed was won by Alassane Ouattara, a rival to incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.

Gbagbo, who has the backing of the army, says the results were rigged and has refused to quit, pointing to a decision to reverse Ouattara's win by the country's Constitutional Council, headed by a long-standing Gbagbo ally.

(Reporting by Simon Akam; Editing by Mark John and Louise Ireland)