By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara said on Thursday that a panel set up by the African Union to find a solution to the crisis in the West African nation has confirmed he won the disputed election.
"The panel confirmed that I am the president-elect of the Ivorian people. It's the final decision and there's no way to go back on that," Ouattara told journalists in the Ethiopian capital where the panel was meeting.
He said the panel also recommended the formation of a government of national unity involving all political parties and civil society, while an honorable exit was found for incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo.
Gbagbo, who has refused to relinquish power in the world's biggest cocoa bean producer, has argued that U.N.-certified election results showing he lost to Ouattara were rigged.
His government said on Thursday that flights by the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) were banned from landing anywhere in the country, though the mission does not recognize Gbagbo's authority and has defied several demands that it leave.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the UNOCI would maintain flight operations and take all necessary measures, as directed by U.N. Security Council resolutions, to fulfil its mandate.
RETURN TO CIVIL WAR?
Gbagbo's envoys to the meeting in the Ethiopian capital said earlier they rejected an AU proposal to end the violent power struggle and warned that Ivory Coast risked a return to civil war.
The AU said it would give Gbagbo the "necessary guarantees" if he steps down.
"We don't take no for an answer, we are stubborn people. We bank on the spirit of responsibility. We think that no responsible leader will let this chance go," Ramtane Lamamra, Commissioner of the AU's Peace and Security Council, told a news conference, when asked his reaction if Gbagbo rejected the proposal.
Gbagbo's aides said they could not accept an AU panel proposal based on endorsing Ouattara as the elected president.
"The panel is incapable of giving us any argument that would justify this decision," Pascal Affi N'Guessan, leader of Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front, told reporters at the talks.
"If this initiative doesn't come out with irrefutable and pertinent propositions, we fear that the AU, somehow, will contribute to what the rebels started in 2002," he said of a 2002-2003 civil war that split the country in two.
"We have invited the panel to reconsider its position," he told reporters through a translator. N'Guessan did not give details of the AU proposal but sources at the talks said it had suggested a unity government headed by Ouattara.
Rebels based in the north who back Ouattara reaffirmed their position that only military force would persuade Gbagbo to step down.
The AU talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa were seen by many as a last chance to broker a compromise after a disputed November election triggered violence killing hundreds, and from which around half a million Ivorians have fled their homes.
(Additional reporting by Charles Bamba in Bouake; Tim Cocks in Abidjan, Marcy Nicholson in New York and Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Mark John and Bate Felix; editing by Tim Pearce)