Addis Ababa: The African Union said on Friday it would form a panel of heads of state to solve the leadership crisis in Ivory Coast which would come up with a legally binding settlement within one month.
The world`s top cocoa grower has been paralysed by a power struggle stand-off following a November election. UN-certified results showed that opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara won but they were overturned by a top legal body and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has resisted calls to step down.
"We have decided to set up a panel of heads of state to solve the crisis. The panel will conclude its work within a timeframe of one month. Its conclusions will be legally binding on the Ivorian authorities," said Mauritania`s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Mauritania currently chairs the African Union`s Peace and Security Council (PSC). Abdel Aziz said there would be five heads of state on the panel and that he would chair the panel, and its members would be chosen within the next one to two days.
The PSC also demanded the immediate lifting of the blockade around the lagoon-side Golf Hotel from where Ouattara is running his parallel government.
"We are not changing the negotiations but expanding the framework in order to find a negotiated settlement," said Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union Commission after more than four hours of negotiations that included the leaders of Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mauritania.
Earlier, the bloc`s mediator said ahead of their summit on Friday that leaders of the African Union must demand Ivory Coast`s presidential rivals hold face-to-face talks to resolve a deepening post-election crisis.
"This summit must send a strong and unequivocal message that the two parties must negotiate face-to-face," Raila Odinga said before presenting a report on Ivory Coast to the PSC.
Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, failed to make a breakthrough during two visits to the West African country this month.