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Ivory Coast’s Ouattara Urges End to Sanctions on Cocoa Ports

Ivory Coast President Elect Alassane Ouattara
Ivory Coast President-Elect Alassane Ouattara. Photographer: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

Ivory Coast’s president-elect, Alassane Ouattara, called on the European Union to lift sanctions on the key cocoa-exporting ports of San Pedro and Abidjan to revive an economy devastated by four months of conflict.

Speaking in a televised address late yesterday, Ouattara said his forces had blockaded the home of former President Laurent Gbagbo and were working to restore order and security to the West African nation, the world’s top cocoa producer.

“I invite all my compatriots to refrain from acts of vengeance,” Ouattara, 69, said. “Ivorians from the north, the south, the east and the west, Ivorians of all faiths, whether you voted for me or not, I appeal to your sense of dignity and responsibility.”

Ivory Coast has been locked in a violent political struggle since the Nov. 28 presidential election. While Ouattara is the internationally recognized winner of the vote, Gbagbo, 65, who ruled for a decade, refuses to cede power and remains bunkered in the basement of his Abidjan home. Ouattara’s troops, backed by United Nations and French airstrikes, have failed to force him out.

The European Commission has received a request to remove “certain entities” from the sanctions list and is working on it in consultation with Ouattara, commission spokesman Michael Mann said by telephone from Brussels today. “We hope to be able to start easing sanctions soon,” he said.

Bodies Found

At least 100 bodies have been discovered in the west of the country in past 24 hours as a result of two separate incidents, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The dead included some people who had been burned alive and others who were thrown down a well, the news agency said. About 60 corpses were discovered in the town of Guiglo, while some appeared to be people from neighboring West African countries, Colville was cited as saying.

UN-backed talks on a peaceful exit for Gbagbo broke down on April 6 and exile is no longer an option, Youssoufou Bamba, the Ouattara-appointed ambassador to the UN, was cited by Xinhua as saying. Gbagbo must be captured alive and made to face justice, Bamba said.

Looters, Food

Residents in the Cocody area of Abidjan, near Gbagbo’s residence, reported gangs of armed looters roving the streets.

“It’s not safe to go out. We can see armed guys coming in groups, in pick-ups,” said Jeanette Gadou, a resident of the area. “We can see them entering some buildings and stealing cars, especially four-by-fours,” she said by phone.

Crowds surrounded two supermarkets in Deux Plateaux, said Jacqueline N’Guessan, a resident who was trying to get food.

“People don’t know for how long it will stay open, and if it will be safe to go there by foot later in the day,” she said by phone.

The prospect of a Gbagbo trial before the International Criminal Court may discourage the former president from surrendering, said David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to neighboring Burkina Faso. The prosecutor’s office of The Hague-based court said it has begun investigations of potential crimes in Ivory Coast.

Cocoa Crop

“Someone’s trying to find a place to dump him and give some sort of informal agreement not to put him before the ICC,” Shinn said in a phone interview from Washington. “If he’s convinced they are going to go after him he’ll hang on until the last dog dies.”

About a third of the country’s 2010-11 cocoa crop, or 440,000 metric tons, has been stockpiled near the port of Abidjan, the commercial capital. A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the world’s largest container-shipping line, has said it would be able to send vessels as soon as the EU lifted sanctions it imposed in January.

Cocoa futures for July delivery fell 1.3 percent to 1,889 pounds ($3,084) a ton at 5:11 p.m. in London.

Ivory Coast’s defaulted $2.3 billion Eurobond fell for the first time in four days, declining 1.9 percent to 52.833 cents on the dollar at 4:13 p.m. in Abidjan.

Reopen Banks

Ouattara asked the Dakar, Senegal-based Central Bank of West African States to reopen its offices in Ivory Coast to help restore a banking industry shuttered by the crisis and pay “salaries and arrears.” A noon-to-6 a.m. curfew would be lifted beginning today, the president said.

The measures are meant to “allow for a progressive return to normality,” Ouattara said.

Residents of Abidjan have been shut in their homes since the pro-Ouattara Republican Forces entered the city on April 1 and began their last push to install their leader in office.

Ouattara pledged to investigate all the allegations of human rights abuses committed during the conflict and bring all those found guilty to justice.

“All the massacres and crimes will be brought to light” and “the authors of the crimes will be sanctioned,” he said.

France, which launched helicopter strikes on Gbagbo forces in Abidjan earlier this week, praised Ouattara’s efforts. “The page has turned, we are living in a post-Gbagbo era,” said Bernard Valero, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. “Mr. Gbagbo is living in his cave.”

Rising Violence

UN peacekeepers rescued five South Korean officials late yesterday who had been trapped in that embassy’s compound in Abidjan for six days, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.

Guillaume Soro, Ouattara’s prime minister, urged residents in Abidjan not to block aid workers from removing bodies, supplying medicine and restoring water and electricity, according to an e-mailed statement.

Sexual violence has risen sharply in some areas, with the International Rescue Committee saying it had recorded a four-fold increase in the number of reported sexual assaults in parts of western and central Ivory Coast since December.

“Even if the political and military showdown in Abidjan ends today, we’re concerned that looting, hostility, bloodshed, reprisal killings and sexual assaults will escalate in communities across the country,” Louis Falcy, the aid agency’s country director for Ivory Coast, said in an e-mailed statement.

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