afrol News, 18 January - West Africa's ECOWAS has threatened a military intervention in Côte d'Ivoire to oust defeated President Laurent Gbagbo, but the regional body is split. Also a firmer action by the UN peacekeeping mission is controversial.
The UN has a 9,000-strong peacekeeping operation in Côte d'Ivoire, termed UNOCI, which plaid a great role in securing a democratic election last year won by opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara. It still plays a key role in protecting Mr Ouattara while the President-elect is barred from taking on power.
But UNOCI has a limited mandate and a limited number. Last night, forces loyal to outgoing President Gbagbo "opened fire in the direction of the UNOCI vehicles forcing the peacekeepers to respond by shooting in the air," the mission said in a press statement today.
The UN peacekeepers tried to avoid a direct confrontation with Mr Gbagbo's troops despite the attack. This is symptomatic of UNOCI, which is not prepared for offensive military action.
Several countries favour a more active role of the UN mission, some even advocating an UNOCI operation to detain and dethrone Mr Gbagbo, thus opening the way for Mr Ouattara and an end to the impasse.
But even today, the UN Security Council failed to make its planned decision to increase the Côte d'Ivoire mission by 1,000 and 2,000 additional forces, as requested by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But reports from New York today indicate that veto power Russia was against any enlargement of UNOCI. The vote was delayed.
Also the African Union (AU) is heavily engaged in international attempts to oust Mr Gbagbo, with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga yesterday again meeting with the defeated Ivorian leader. But the AU only has diplomatic means, including sanctions, when reacting to the Ivorian crisis. An AU military intervention is not on the table.
The most probable body to intervene is the regional West African grouping ECOWAS, which earlier has led military operations in member countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. ECOWAS also was quick to threaten with military means in favour of the election winner, Mr Ouattara.
But the West African member states are not united in their threat to intervene with troops. Ghana's President John Atta Mills earlier this month made it clear his country would not participate in a possible military intervention.
Ghana neighbours Côte d'Ivoire and there are around 500 Ghanaian UNOCI peacekeepers in Côte d'Ivoire. If an ECOWAS intervention would be met with strong resistance from Ivorian troops loyal to Mr Gbagbo and the large civilian population favouring the outgoing President
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan is heading current ECOWAS efforts to oust Laurent Gbagbo
in south-eastern Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana could be strongly affected.
But President Atta Mills is being strongly criticised by the Ghanaian opposition and other ECOWAS leaders for his announcement. The Ghanaian President is accused of hollowing the ECOWAS stick against Mr Gbagbo.
Despite this, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf yesterday said her country also opposed a military intervention in Côte d'Ivoire. Ms Sirleaf claimed to speak on behalf of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, three ECOWAS countries grouped in the "Mano River Union" and representing the western neighbours of Côte d'Ivoire.
Most other ECOWAS leaders have however indicated they favour maintaining the threat against Mr Gbagbo. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the current ECOWAS chairman, today made it clear that the regional body of course wanted to resolve the Ivorian crisis peacefully, but emphasised that "we have not changed the position we took during our last summit," regarding the possibility of a military intervention.
President Jonathan in a statement explained that the Ivorian crisis was of principal importance on a continental level. "The votes of citizens must count after they are cast, or democracy will not take hold in the continent," the Nigerian leader said, explaining why a military option must remain open.
Also Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has made it clear that the threat of a military intervention must remain open, as the entire democratic development of Africa was at stake. If military means where necessary to out Mr Gbagbo, then they must be used, the Senegalese presidency made clear last week.
ECOWAS has now gathered its military chiefs to finalise plans for a possible intervention, according to the regional body. Until now, ECOWAS has indicated it has some 6,500 troops ready on standby, which could lead the operation in Côte d'Ivoire.
The aim of the operation would be to enter the country, capture Mr Gbagbo, secure the capital and install Mr Ouattara in the presidential office. The intervention could start already in ten days, when the two-month deadline for a negotiated solution ends.
There are however great doubts to whether such a small force could manage the task quickly and efficiently if Mr Gbagbo is able to mobilise the troops and civilians loyal to him. The ECOWAS intervention would come at a risk of igniting a new civil war in Côte d'Ivoire.
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