African Union Commission chief Jean Ping held talks in Abidjan Saturday to deliver a “message” to rival presidential claimants Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, in an effort to keep mounting violence in Ivory Coast from spiralling into civil war.
AFP - African Union Commission chief Jean Ping held talks in Abidjan Saturday with strongman Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara in a bid to end their three-month stand-off.
Ping delivered a message from the five African heads of state tasked by the African Union with finding a peaceful solution to the dispute in which both men claim to be president.
TALKING POINTS: Is there any way out of crisis in Ivory Coast?
Violence has flared in the last two weeks, leading to fears that the unfinished business from last November's election could descend into civil war.
As Ping met the two rivals, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said it was ready to move fast against those who committed crimes against the civilian population.
Witnesses and United Nations officials have blamed the pro-Gbagbo Defence and Security Forces (FDS) for shooting dead seven women dead Thursday during a pro-Ouattara demonstration in Abidjan. They have denied the charge.
Gbagbo's defence minister Alain Dogou Saturday blamed the killings on UN-backed "terrorists".
"We are faced with a new type of violence called terrorism, an asymmetric warfare and the enemy is invisible and that is why the commando tells you he is invisible," Dogou told reporters.
Jean Ping arrived on Saturday morning with (AU) peace and security chief Ramtane Lamamra," said a source close to the African Union.
Ping spent an hour with Gbagbo at his residence before moving on to meet Ouattara, the internationally recognised president, at his base in an Abidjan hotel.
Afterwards Ping would only say he had passed on a message, without elaborating on its contents.
But Ouattara did say that he had been invited to a meeting Thursday of the five African leaders trying to mediate in the crisis.
"Of course I will accept this invitation," he said, adding that every effort would be made so he could attend it.
But Ouattara's base is surrounded by Gbagbo's forces, despite a call by the panel of five African presidents for the blockade to be lifted.
The five African leaders -- presidents Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, Jacob Zuma from South Africa, Idriss Deby Itno from Chad, Blaise Compaore from Burkina Faso and Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete -- said late Friday both leaders had been invited to the talks.
Ping was also due to met Paul Yao N'Dre, president of the constitutional council, an AU source said.
After a six-hour meeting in Mauritania on Friday, the five African leaders issued a statement calling for an end to the bloodshed -- and to any demonstrations that might "degenerate" into violence.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday accused Gbagbo and his forces of a "callous disregard" for life.
"He should step aside immediately in the name of peace," she said.
And on Saturday, deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the International Criminal Court said they were ready to "move fast" anyone responsible for targetting civilians.
"One thing is clear, if it (the situation) reaches the gravity threshold, definitely the ICC will move fast", Fatou Bensouda said, describing the deaths of the women as "appalling."
Even before the killing of the women protesters Thursday, UN officials said 365 people died in Ivory Coast clashes since the end of 2010.
After electricity and water supplies to the zone controlled by rebels in the north were cut Monday, current was restored Saturday, local people reported.
The Gbagbo government had invoked industrial needs but the UN said the cuts were "an inhuman act with drastic consequences."
Date created : 2011-03-05