Time running out on Ivory Coast: AU`s Odinga

After leading failed AU mediation bid, Kenyan PM says force was last resort.

Abidjan: Time is running out for a peaceful settlement of Ivory Coast`s crisis, Kenyan Premier Raila Odinga said on Friday after leading a failed African Union mediation bid, adding that force was a "last resort”.

Ivorian incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has defied calls to quit after UN-certified results showed him the loser of a November 28 election, prolonging a stand-off with rival Alassane Ouattara that risks throwing the top cocoa grower back into civil war.

"The window for a peaceful negotiation is closing very fast," Odinga told reporters on returning to Kenya.

"We will continue to walk the extra mile to find a peaceful resolution ... The use of legitimate force is there and we will say that it is the ultimate resort, the very last resort if everything else has failed," he added.

There is little appetite among African nations for armed intervention that could cause more bloodshed in a country where 260 have already died in violence linked to the deadlock. Nations such as Ghana say they will not offer troops.

Leaders of the 53-state African Union will discuss next steps at a summit at the end of the month, and signs are emerging of cracks in an official AU line insisting that Gbagbo immediately make way for Ouattara to take power.

Odinga made a detour to Angola and South Africa on the way back to Kenya, holding talks with the leadership of two states seen as potential weak points in AU unity.

South African President Jacob Zuma said there were "some discrepancies" in the election result and dismissed a proposal by diplomats for Gbagbo to go into exile.

Odinga said a recount, suggested by Gbagbo, would be pointless. "I told Gbagbo and the two presidents that it is an exercise in futility. Even if you are to open the ballot boxes and do a recount, no one would believe you," he said.

Sparking new tension with the United Nations, which has defied a Gbagbo order for its 10,000 peacekeepers to leave the country, the Ivorian Army said its forces were under instructions to stop and search vehicles with UN markings.

Army spokesman Colonel Babri Gohourou linked the order with allegations -- dismissed by the UN peacekeeping department -- that 2,000 UN troops had joined forces with rebels controlling the north and were preparing to attack civilians.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the stop-and-search order was a "serious violation" of an agreement between the Ivorian government and the world body, and of Security Council resolutions, and was "therefore unacceptable”.

Bureau Report

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