Ivory Coast`s Ouattara seeks diplomatic backing in Nigeria

Nigerian President is chairman of the AU`s Peace and Security Council.

Abuja: Ivory Coast`s internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara on Friday met the Nigerian President to muster more diplomatic support in his bitter leadership dispute with rival Laurent Gbagbo.

Emerging from talks with Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan, Ouattara told reporters he had come to brief Jonathan on his meeting on Thursday with an African Union panel of heads of states in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Jonathan is chairman of the AU`s Peace and Security Council.

After months of trying to broker a solution to the dispute between Ouattara, and the incumbent Gbagbo, who has refused to concede defeat, the AU on Thursday endorsed Ouattara as the elected president since the November 28 elections.

"The AU confirmed that I am the elected President of Côte d`Ivoire and so I have come to see my brother President Jonathan to thank him for his support," he said.

Jonathan is also the current head of the regional grouping ECOWAS, which has been outspoken in its support for Ouattara and which has threatened to use force if Gbagbo does not concede power to Ouattara.

The AU`s endorsement of Ouattara`s victory was immediately rejected by Gbagbo`s camp, amid sporadic armed conflict in the west African country. Gbagbo himself did not attend the talks, only sending representatives.

Ouattara arrived on Friday from Addis Ababa for a 48-hour stay in the Nigerian capital.

When he flew out of Ivory Coast, Gbagbo`s camp issued a ban on all overflights and landings by United Nations and French forces, raising the question of whether Ouattara will be able to return to Abidjan.

But Nigeria`s junior foreign minister assured reporters the Ivorian leader would be able to get back home safely.

"There are enough facilities put in place for his safe return to Côte d`Ivoire," Suleiman said.

It is Ouattara`s first visit to regional powerhouse Nigeria, since the November presidential elections that the international community acknowledges he won.

As well as its key role in the African Union, Nigeria also currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

But an ECOWAS spokesman said there were no talks lined up with officials from the Abuja-based ECOWAS secretariat.

In Addis Ababa, Ouattara said the AU panel handling the Ivory Coast crisis had asked him to form a broad government and to provide Gbagbo with an honourable exit.

"I`ll put in place a government of national unity where all the major parties would (be) represented," Ouattara said on Friday at a meeting with around 30 diplomats in Addis Ababa.

Hours after the AU`s decision, heavy fighting broke out in Tiebissou, a town near the line that divides zones controlled by the country`s rival factions and near Ivory Coast`s political capital Yamoussoukro.

Former rebels of the New Forces (FN), who have controlled the northern half of the country since a foiled coup in 2002, denied any part in the clashes at Tiebissou.

The head of the UN mission in Ivory Coast (ONUCI) said on Friday that the country`s crisis was nearing its end.

"I have never doubted that the will of the people would prevail at the end and the end will arrive sooner than foreseen," Choi Young-jin said.

He also suggested that Gbagbo might have lost control of his troops.

But on Thursday, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay expressed alarm over the deteriorating crisis. According to UN figures, post-election unrest has left 392 people dead, including 27 in the past week.

The AU`s Peace and Security Council will meet again on March 24 in Abuja to discuss how to implement its endorsement of Ouattara, a decision that is meant to be binding.

Bureau Report

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