Fears of Ivorian conflict grow as mediation fails

ABIDJAN/ADDIS ABABA Fri Mar 11, 2011 1:38pm EST

ABIDJAN/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Senegal's leader, Abdoulaye Wade, said on Friday Ivory Coast was "entering a phase of war" after the latest attempt by the African Union to resolve a power struggle by diplomacy failed.

Incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo rejected an AU proposal at a summit on Thursday offering him a safe exit in return for ceding power to rival Alassane Ouattara, winner of a disputed November poll according to U.N.-certified results.

Ouattara said on Friday he could not in any case have accepted the power-sharing pact because it would be illogical for him to form a unity government with Gbagbo allies still in control of the top cocoa grower.

"Ivory Coast is entering a phase of war," Wade, president of nearby Senegal, told French-language Africa news website Slateafrique.com.

"No one likes violence ... but in the case of Ivory Coast it is inevitable because it does not come from outside but from the internal situation," he said of the longstanding divide between the mainly Christian south where Gbagbo draws much of his support and the largely Muslim north which backs Ouattara.

Gbagbo's camp said on Thursday a repeat of a 2002-2003 civil war was possible, while rebels who control the north declared that force was the only way to remove Gbagbo from power.

Residents reported new gunfire in the Abidjan suburb of Abobo which has seen weeks of heavy fighting between insurgents backing Ouattara and security forces loyal to Gbagbo.

The conflict has sent cocoa futures near to 32-year highs although they were down on Friday as commodities fell across the board on news of the huge Japanese earthquake.

Ouattara flew to Nigeria for talks with President Goodluck Jonathan, one of the firmest advocates of action to oust Gbagbo by force if necessary. Ouattara did not comment on the content of talks, saying only that he would stay there a few days.

HATE CAMPAIGN

Earlier, former IMF official Ouattara said there would have been no question of him entertaining the type of power-sharing agreement with Gbagbo allies proposed by an AU panel.

"You can't have people elected and say you have to share power," Ouattara told diplomats and heads of international organizations based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

"How can I share with someone who has been in power for 10 years and whom Ivorians didn't vote for? It's illogical."

Around 400 people have been killed in post-election violence according to the United Nations, while some 450,000 Ivorians have fled their homes for fear of attacks. Around 90,000 have sought refuge in neighboring Liberia.

Resident of the Abidjan suburb of Abobo reported evidence of more fighting between rival camps overnight.

"Since last night there have been gunshots and explosions from heavy weapons. This morning, a lot of shops were full of bullet holes," said Abobo resident Tiemoko Souala.

Gbagbo's government said on Thursday that flights by the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) were banned from landing anywhere in the country, though the mission does not recognize Gbagbo's authority and has defied several demands that it leave -- a measure apparently aimed at stopping Ouattara coming back.

Asked how the U.N. would get Ouattara back in, given the risk posed by Gbagbo's flying ban, mission chief Y.J. Choi told journalists: "It will be more complex than you can imagine."

Choi also warned pro-Gbagbo media that they would be held accountable for what he called a sustained hate campaign against the U.N., which has led to staff being attacked by youth mobs.

"I strongly warn that those who invent and propagate those hate stories: do not have the illusion that you can do it with impunity. UNOCI is currently documenting your acts which constitute war crimes," he said.

(Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Mark John and Elizabeth Piper)

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