Ivory Coast Leaders Damp Hopes for Peaceful Solution to Political Impasse

Hopes for a peaceful solution to Ivory Coast’s political crisis were damped after President-elect Alassane Ouattara said rival Laurent Gbagbo would be ousted soon, while a spokesman for Gbagbo said any attempt to use force would be a “declaration of war.”

“Neither the Ivorian people nor the army will accept” military intervention, said spokesman Ahoua Don Mello in a phone interview from Abidjan, the commercial capital, today. “We will defend the country,” he said.

While the United Nations, the U.S. and African leaders recognize Ouattara, 69, as the winner of the Nov. 28 election, Gbagbo has refused to step down, alleging voting fraud in northern states. The army has maintained its blockade of the Golf Hotel in Abidjan that Ouattara uses as his headquarters even after Gbagbo told the West African group Ecowas the siege would be lifted.

People at the hotel, which is protected by UN peacekeepers, are “free” to leave and the blockade will be lifted “under the condition the rebels backing Alassane Ouattara leave the hotel,” Mello said.

The continued impasse shows a solution isn’t on the horizon, said Gilles Yabi, the West African program director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

“We are still in a deadlock and there is no sign of a solution soon,” Yabi said today in a phone interview from Dakar, Senegal.

Deadlock

While neighboring Ghana recognizes Ouattara’s election victory, it will not contribute troops to any possible military force sent by Ecowas to oust Gbagbo, President John Atta Mills said today.

“I do not think this military option is going to bring peace in Cote d’Ivoire,” Mills told reporters in Ghana’s capital, Accra. “I don’t want to be saddled with problems we cannot solve. We have our own internal problems.”

Ouattara yesterday said a military intervention by Ecowas would come “sooner than you think,” in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.

“I have a whole series of measures ongoing that will make him fall, not like ripe, but like rotten fruit,” he told reporters in a separate statement in Abidjan.

Since the election, more than 210 people have been killed, including 14 in the western town of Duekoue this week, according to the UN. About 10,000 people have fled the clashes in the area, seeking refuge in a Catholic mission there, a priest in the area said.

Bonds Payments

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, appointed by the African Union to mediate in the impasse, said on Jan. 5 that Gbagbo had agreed to talks without conditions, comments that sparked a rally in the West African nation’s Eurobonds.

The bonds were little changed today at 39.63 cents on the dollar, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yield rose to 16.09 percent as of 6 p.m. in Abidjan, from 15.10 percent on Jan. 5.

Ivory Coast missed a $29 million interest payment on the Eurobonds on Dec. 31 and has a 30-day grace period to pay the money. Gbagbo spokesman Mello said investors should “ask Alassane Ouattara to pay”.

“The bill should be paid only when the international community recognizes Laurent Gbagbo,” he said. “I think it would be curious to ask our government to pay while the international community doesn’t recognize” the administration. Gbagbo’s government has not discussed the coupon payment, Mello said.

Gbagbo will probably be unable to make the payment, Samir Gadio, emerging markets strategist at Standard Bank Plc, said in a note to clients today. “Given the increasingly anti-Western stance of Gbagbo’s government and its limited fiscal flexibility, servicing the Eurobond is unlikely to be a policy priority,” he said.

Gbagbo ordered the ambassadors of Canada and the U.K. to leave Ivory Coast yesterday in retaliation for those countries’ refusal to recognize his representatives in their nations.

To contact the reporters on this story: Olivier Monnier and Pauline Bax in Abidjan via Accra at ebowers1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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