'This is really a last chance for Ivory Coast'

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Sunday he was “extremely concerned” about the stalemate in Côte d’Ivoire that has prevented the start of a disarmament campaign and the reunification of the West African powerhouse divided by two years of civil war.

“I am extremely concerned about the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, like all the leaders here, who would like to see a settlement,” Annan told reporters at a press conference that followed the opening of an African Union summit devoted to resolving the intractable conflicts on the continent.

“The government of national reconciliation has to come together and to work. What happens in Cote d’Ivoire impacts the whole region.”

Repeated efforts to mediate in the conflict that began in September 2002 with a failed coup that sparked a low-level civil war have failed to yield concrete results, leaving the country divided, its cocoa-based economy plundered and its population

fearful of a reprise of fighting.

The Côte d’Ivoire conflict occupied much of the attention of the AU’s Peace and Security Council meeting on January 11 in the Gabon capital Libreville, but the meeting was inconclusive, failing to dislodge either side from entrenched positions on political reform or disarmament.

Elections set for October could be postponed due to the reigning instability, despite the presence of about 10 000 French and United Nations peacekeepers.

President Laurent Gbagbo held early morning talks on Sunday, ahead of the summit, with his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki, who was chosen in November as the AU mediator in the Ivorian crisis.

“Other heads of state are trying to soften the ground for the mediation so that the options will be clearly presented to Gbagbo,” a UN official said of the Sunday morning talks, on condition of anonymity.

“This is really a last chance for Ivory Coast, because they have exhausted all of their options and the heads of state are growing tired of this.”

The United Nations has, thus far, delayed the application of targeted sanctions including holds on bank accounts and travel bans that were to follow a 13-month ban on arms sales imposed in November.

On Friday the world body yielded to an AU request and postponed a scheduled vote on tightening the arms embargo until after this weekend’s Abuja summit.

An annex to a confidential UN report about rights abuses committed during the two years of war listed 95 individuals who could be face sanctions, Radio France Internationale reported last week.

Leaked names included Gbagbo’s wife Simone Ehevet Gbagbo, his top defence adviser Bertin Kadet and the leader of a pro-government militia known as the Young Patriots, Charles Ble Goude, as well as rebel leader Guillaume Soro, according to RFI.

Annan acknowledged the list on Sunday, but said it would be up to a prosecutor to decide whether to publish the names.

“There is a list, but it will not be published,” he said. “If we have to bring people to court [based on atrocities they allegedly committed] we are not going to compromise ourselves.” - Sapa-AFP


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