Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of the Ivory Coast who international observers say lost his re-election bid this past November, was reported to have surrendered to United Nations forces on Tuesday, April 5 and asked for UN protection to go into exile.
But, as the AmNews went to press, Gbagbo was denying that he had surrendered.
Three generals loyal to Gbagbo were said to have been trying to negotiate the terms of a surrender but Gbagbo told a French television station that those negotiations revolved around a ceasefire, not surrender.
Gbagbo has refused to relinquish power to Alassane Ouattara, whom international
observers have identified as the winner of the Ivory Coast’s elections.
Gbagbo won the first round of presidential elections on October 31, 2010, but by a slim margin. He wound up in a run-off election against Ouattara, the country’s former prime minister, on November 28. But when those election results declared Ouattara the winner, Gbagbo and his allies refused to accept the outcome. By December 3, the country’s Constitutional Council reversed the results and declared that Gbagbo had actually won.
International observers from the European Union, United States, African Union,
Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the
United Nations Security Council all recognize Ouattara as the winner of the elections.
Some members of ECOWAS called on Gbagbo to step down in late December–even
threatening going to war to get Gbagbo out–but Gbagbo has refused to leave. Instead, he encouraged international observers to return to the country and recount the ballots–an offer that was refused.
Still, there is not a complete consensus among ECOWAS and African Union members that Gbagbo has to go; representatives from the Gambia, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa support him.
As a civil war has waged in the country for the past four months between the opposing sides, the international business community has voiced its desire to see an end to the crisis. The Ivory Coast remains the world’s biggest producer of cocoa and a major producer of coffee.
Forces from the 9,000-member United Nations mission in Ivory Coast (ONUCI) and 966 soldiers who form part of France’s “Operation Licorne” bombed Gbagbo’s presidential palace and two military barracks during an offensive on April 5. The UN said that the bombing was in retaliation against Gbagbo’s forces for their attacks on civilians.
“We launched an operation to neutralize [the] heavy weapons Gbagbo’s special forces
have been using against the civilian population for the past three months. We destroyed them in four locations,” said ONUCI spokesman Hamadoun Tore. It’s unclear if the international attack was also in response to last week’s massacre of over 1,000 people in the city of Duekoue–a massacre that the UN has so far determined was caused by both Ouattara’s and Gbagbo’s forces.
U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement saying, “I strongly support the role that United Nations peacekeepers are playing as they enforce their mandate to protect civilians, and I welcome the efforts of French forces who are supporting that mission. Tragically, the violence that we are seeing could have been averted had Laurent Gbagbo respected the results of last year’s presidential election.”
The 68-year-old Ouattara (aka “ADO”) is a former International Monetary Fund (IMF)
economist who was initially appointed to serve as prime minister in 1990 by then-
President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Ouattara has many important allies in the West,
particularly French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the current managing director of the
IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Gbagbo, who is 65, is a former history teacher whose militant socialist ideas made him a long-time opponent of Houphouet-Boigny, a famous anti-communist and promoter of a close alliance between the Ivory Coast and its former colonial master, France. Gbagbo was imprisoned in 1992 under Houphouet-Boigny’s administration and charged with inciting violence–he served one year in prison while Ouattara served as Houphouet- Boigny’s prime minister.