SA tells UN it will continue Côte d’Ivoire effort

South African Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota assured the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday that his country’s mediation in strife-torn Côte d’Ivoire will continue to push for free and fair elections on October 30 as scheduled.

”The South African mediation states that it will continue its efforts with the support of the UN and the African Union to ensure the holding of free, fair and transparent elections as scheduled, which is the only solution to the crisis,” Japan’s UN envoy Kenzo Oshima told reporters.

The AU asked Pretoria last November to spearhead international efforts to ensure progress towards reunification after a 2003 peace deal stalled, with UN sanctions threatened against the country if an agreed timetable is not kept.

Oshima, the current president of the Security Council, said Lekota underlined that it is time ”for the implementation in good faith and without delay of the [peace] agreement signed by all Ivorian parties”.

Lekota briefed the council at Oshima’s request shortly after Pretoria retracted an earlier statement that its mediation in strife-torn Côte d’Ivoire had ended.

South African Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad on Tuesday told reporters ”the time has come … that the mediation’s role by and large has now concluded”, adding that the UN and AU should take over peace efforts in the West African nation.

But early on Wednesday, South African Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said: ”What he [Pahad] meant to say is that we have concluded the report of the current phase of mediation.”

Lekota told reporters at the UN that the South African mediation is now moving into a new phase after dealing with hurdles that stood in the way of implementation of the peace agreement.

”The critical thing now is that we have to go full blast to implementation [of the peace agreement],” Lekota added. ”But the mediation role cannot purely end by the resolution of the bottlenecks. We have to be part, all be it in a limited way. We must be part of the implementation of process.”

Rebels reject SA mediation

But in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s rebel New Forces (FN) on Wednesday said it refuses to accept any future South African mediation.

”Starting today, the New Forces completely reject the South African mediation in Côte d’Ivoire,” the group said in a statement signed by the rebels’ spokesperson, Sidiki Konate.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who was chosen by the AU to help mediate the conflict that has divided the West African nation, has been accused by the rebels of being motivated by economic expansionism, giving biased rulings and reportedly selling arms to President Laurent Gbagbo’s government.

The FN also called on the current AU leader, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, to organise a new mediation for Côte d’Ivoire.

Oshima, meanwhile, reaffirmed the council’s readiness ”take all steps they consider necessary, including implementation of individual sanctions, in order to ensure the respect of the resolutions of the Security Council”.

He also reiterated the council’s full support for the actions undertaken by the south African mediation and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s representatives in Côte d’Ivoire.

The Security Council also heard a briefing from the UN special envoy in Côte d’Ivoire, Sweden’s Pierre Schori, against a backdrop of mounting tensions in the world’s top cocoa producer fuelled by last week’s decision by rebels to withdraw their support for the October 30 presidential polls.

The rebels demanded instead that Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo step down and play no part in a political transition negotiated by Mbeki.

Asked whether the elections might have to be delayed because of the rising tensions, Schori later told reporters: ”What’s important is that if there’s a delay, it is not a political delay [but] a technical delay. We want to avoid a constitutional crisis.”

Oshima also condemned the killing of a Moroccan peacekeeper working for the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire and expressed condolences to his family.

The Moroccan was stabbed to death overnight by unidentified assailants using machetes in the rebel-controlled central town of Bouake, UN sources said.

Côte d’Ivoire, once a haven of stability in West Africa, has been split in two since a failed coup against Gbagbo in September 2002, pitting rebels from the Muslim-dominated north against the Christian-populated south. — Sapa-AFP

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Gerard Aziakou
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