(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Opposition alliance calls on UN to reject 12 more months of Gbagbo

[Cote d'lvoire] Jordanian soldiers, part of some 6,000 UN peacekeepers, in the Ivorian capital Yamoussoukro.

An alliance of Cote d'Ivoire's main opposition parties has called on the UN to reject African Union proposals to keep President Laurent Gbagbo in office for up to 12 months beyond the end of his mandate this month.

The opposition call comes ahead of a key meeting Thursday of the UN Security Council on how to keep the divided West African nation on a path to peace after 30 October, the date when Gbagbo’s current term was supposed to end with fresh elections, according to the latest in a string of peace deals.

That deal, like others previously, has come unstuck and at a special summit last week the AU proposed Gbagbo remain in office beyond 30 October to avert a political crisis pending new elections.

But at a news conference, Alphonse Djedje Mady, spokesman for the four-party Houphouetist Alliance, said "the transition [to elections] must be carried out without Laurent Gbagbo as head of state.”

"Maintaining Laurent Gbagbo as head of state will not allow us to overcome the obstacles that the reconciliation government has known for three years and that have caused the current impasse," said Mady on Monday.

Under a January 2003 peace deal between rebels who control the north of the country and the Gbagbo government, the president, who was elected in 2000, was to run the country alongside a power-sharing government until new elections took place.

But neither the rebels nor pro-government militias have laid down their arms and the UN, which maintains 6,000 peacekeepers in the partitioned country, last month said a ballot would be technically impossible.

AU leaders last week proposed the nomination of a new prime minister “acceptable to all” but with bolstered powers to assist Gbagbo in up to another 12 months in office. But the local press has opined that no such consensus individual exists in restive Cote d’Ivoire.

The opposition alliance suggested instead that a head of state and prime minister with no post-poll political ambitions could lead the country to elections. But they gave no names on who could fill these posts.

The AU also recommended more UN troops to Cote d'Ivoire, a proposal backed by the opposition alliance. Currently 6,000 blue helmets maintain a sometimes shaky peace along with 4,000 French troops.

Last week, Senegal's Foreign Minister, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio said African leaders would like at least 1,000 more UN soldiers to be sent to Cote d'Ivoire.

According to Gadio, the existing force is not large enough to carry out the disarmament of rebel and militia fighters which, he said, will require house to house searches to mop up secret arms caches.

Cote d'Ivoire slipped into civil war after a failed coup d'etat in September 2002. Though a peace deal was signed within months key commitments of that accord have never come to light.

Rebels, known as the New Forces, have refused to disarm and pro-government militias in the south have yet to hand in a single weapon while a voter's register has still to be drawn up.

The Houphouetist Alliance, which comprises the former ruling party the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire, the Rally of the Republicans and two smaller parties, did not rule out calling on supporters to take to the streets and demonstrate after the 30 October deadline expires, as they have previously done.

"If it is necessary we will ask them to [mobilise].. but we haven't said so yet," Mady said.

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