The U.S. is urging African nations to boost peacekeeping forces in Ivory Coast to prevent a slide into civil war and is considering financial sanctions against President Laurent Gbagbo, administration officials said.
President Barack Obama called Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday to discuss the crisis and U.S. travel sanctions on supporters of Gbagbo’s bid to hold on to power, according to a statement released by the White House.
The defeat of Gbagbo in Ivory Coast’s recent election is “irrefutable” and he must step down, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said in Washington yesterday. Opposition leaders in the West African nation, the world’s top cocoa producer, called yesterday for the international community to use military force to oust the president. Gbagbo has demanded the existing 9,105-member United Nations peacekeeping mission leave the country.
The U.S. and France are talking to other countries, including Nigeria, about West African nations augmenting the UN mission though there is no discussion of U.S. troops playing a role, Crowley said.
The U.S. is concerned that Gbagbo “may challenge the presence” of the UN peacekeepers with a “force of his own,” Crowley said. “We want to make sure that the UN has the capability to maintain peace and stability.”
The UN on Dec. 19 rejected Gbagbo’s call for the peacekeepers to leave, and the Security Council unanimously extended the force’s mandate until June 30, 2011.
The political crisis has fueled a 9.8 percent increase in cocoa prices since Nov. 28. Cocoa futures for March delivery rose 39 pounds, or 1.9 percent, to 2,048 British pounds ($3,156) a ton on NYSE Liffe. Cocoa futures for March delivery added $57, or 1.9 percent, to $3,027 a ton on ICE Futures U.S.
Crowley said while the U.S. “would hope that the use of force wouldn’t be necessary” to remove Gbagbo from power, buttressing troops would “send a clear message” that he must leave office. An expanded UN force might be granted a different mandate beyond the current peacekeeping mission, he said.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the bank has frozen loans to the Ivory Coast. The Central Bank of West African States also halted lending because of the “terrible” situation brought on by Gbagbo’s refusal to accept defeat, Zoellick told reporters in Paris yesterday.
Violence has broken out since Ivory Coast’s Electoral Commission declared Alassane Ouattara the winner over Gbagbo in the Nov. 28 presidential runoff election and the UN certified the result. Ouattara and Gbagbo both took the oath of office on Dec. 4 and confrontations have followed almost daily since then, leaving at least 50 people dead and 200 injured, according to the UN.
The political standoff and mounting violence have pushed the nation to the brink of civil war, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Dec. 21.
France and Germany this week warned their citizens to leave the country, and Nigeria ordered its diplomats’ families to leave the country amid deadly clashes between pro- and anti- Gbagbo forces.
Crowley said “the international community is documenting widespread human rights abuses,” from “home abductions to a feared mass grave in Abidjan,” the capital.
Gbagbo has “thugs at his disposal” and the U.S. believes his militias are killing opponents and dumping their bodies, Crowley said. The office of the UN refugee commissioner says more than 6,000 people have fled the country’s violence.
On Dec. 21, the State Department announced that it had imposed travel sanctions against Gbagbo and 30 of his allies. William Fitzgerald, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for African affairs, said future trade sanctions were possible against individuals.
Ivory Coast was split into a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south following a 2003 cease-fire. A 2002- 2003 civil war killed hundreds and displaced 1 million people. The UN sent peacekeepers to the country in 2004 to monitor the cease-fire, and the country was officially reunited in a 2007 peace agreement. Gbagbo’s supporters are based in the south, while Ouattara’s are in the north.
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