Former Nigerian Leader Obasanjo Travels to Ivory Coast for Talks on Crisis

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo traveled to Ivory Coast to help resolve a six-week-long political crisis triggered by a disputed Nov. 28 presidential election.

Obasanjo, whose eight years in office ended with Nigeria’s first democratic transfer of power in 2007, met Ivory Coast’s President-elect, Alassane Ouattara, and incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step down after the nation’s electoral commission said he lost the vote.

“Obasanjo is here to help find a resolution for the crisis,” Meite Sindou, spokesman for Guillaume Soro, who serves as Ouattara’s prime minister, said by phone today. “He met with Ouattara and Soro yesterday, but we have not been given any details of what they discussed.”

Ouattara is recognized by the United Nations, the U.S. and the African Union as the winner of the election. Gbagbo, who has been in power since 2000, says he is the victor after a court rejected votes in several northern Ivory Coast regions amid claims of fraud.

Ouattara and his aides have been holed up in a hotel in the commercial capital, Abidjan, protected by 1,000 UN peacekeepers since the dispute began. An army blockade around the hotel remains in place even after Gbagbo promised earlier this week to ease restrictions.

Obasanjo’s unannounced visit comes ahead of a Jan. 17 meeting of West African defense chiefs in the Malian capital, Bamako, where a possible military ouster of Gbagbo will be discussed, Nigerian Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Yerimah said on Jan. 1.

‘Declaration of War’

Any attempt to use military force to remove Gbagbo would be a “declaration of war,” a spokesman for the 65-year-old leader, said in an interview on Jan. 7.

“Neither the Ivorian people nor the army will accept” military intervention, spokesman Ahoua Don Mello said in a phone interview from Abidjan on Jan. 7. “We will defend the country.”

The continued impasse shows a solution to the crisis is unlikely any time “soon,” said Gilles Yabi, the West African program director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

While neighboring Ghana recognizes Ouattara’s election victory, it will not contribute troops to any possible military force sent by the Economic Community of West African States, said President John Atta Mills. Ecowas groups 15 West African nations.

“I do not think this military option is going to bring peace in Cote d’Ivoire,” Mills told reporters in Ghana’s capital, Accra, on Jan. 7. “I don’t want to be saddled with problems we cannot solve. We have our own internal problems.”

210 Killed

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

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 rose 0.7 percent to 38 cents on the dollar on Jan. 7, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yield dropped to 16.695 percent from 16.785 percent a day earlier.

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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Pauline Bax in Abidjan via Johannesburg at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

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

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