West African officials move to oust Gbagbo
Issue warning to president of Ivory Coast
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — West African leaders threatened yesterday to use “legitimate force’’ to remove Laurent Gbagbo as president of Ivory Coast if he does not give up power peacefully.
James Gbeho, president of the regional Economic Community of West African States, said the leaders agreed to issue the warning during a six-hour emergency summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
Gbagbo has refused to step down from the presidency despite international calls for his ouster by the United Nations, United States, former colonizer France, the European Union, and the African Union. The international community recognizes Alassane Ouattara as the winner, though Gbagbo maintains control of the national military.
Gbeho said that ECOWAS was making “an ultimate gesture to Mr. Gbagbo to urge him to make a peaceful exit’’ and that the group would dispatch a high level delegation to Ivory Coast.
Gbeho said chief of defense staffs should meet “to plan future actions, including provision of security along the Ivory Coast-Liberia border, in the event that their message is not heeded.’’
Gbagbo faced other major setbacks yesterday as regional banking officials cut off his access to the state funds used to pay government workers and soldiers, and state television remained off the air in much of the country.
Allies of Ouattara, who is attempting to assert his control over state institutions, hope the move by the West African economic and monetary union late Thursday will set the stage for mass defections if Gbagbo cannot pay civil servants and soldiers in the military.
The United Nations said Thursday that masked gunmen with rocket launchers are blocking access to what officials believe may be a mass grave site in Ivory Coast, as concerns grow that the West African nation that suffered a 2002-2003 civil war could return to conflict.
The United Nations reported that heavily armed forces allied with Gbagbo and joined by masked men were preventing people from getting to the village of N’Dotre, where the global body said “allegations point to the existence of a mass grave.’’
The United Nations did not elaborate on the possible victims, though it has expressed concerns about hundreds of arrests, and dozens of cases of torture and disappearance during the political turmoil since the presidential runoff vote was held nearly a month ago.
“As the violence goes on, the number of dead, wounded, and missing persons is increasing rapidly,’’ UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Alain Toussaint, an adviser for Gbagbo, has said that he didn’t believe soldiers or people close to Gbagbo would carry out the acts of violence that have been reported.
Ouattara condemned the violence in a speech yesterday at the Golf Hotel, where he has been holed up since the election.
“Serious human rights violations have been recorded all over,’’ he said. “During the curfew, people were kidnapped and killed by Republican Guards and military police accompanied by mercenaries and foreign militiamen.
He said he has asked the International Criminal Court to send a team to investigate.
Ouattara also called on the army and the United Nations to protect civilians. At least 173 deaths have been confirmed in violence over the vote.
Independent organizations said they feared for the fate of people who have been kidnapped since the election.
“Many of the abducted remain missing, and the security forces are refusing to reveal their whereabouts,’’ Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
The State Department has ordered most of its personnel to leave because of deteriorating security and growing anti-Western sentiment, and France is also urging its citizens to leave.
The 2002-2003 civil war split the country into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south. While the country officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal, Ouattara draws his support from the north, and Gbagbo’s power base is in the south.