ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s former ruling party acknowledged on Wednesday that President Alassane Ouattara had won November’s disputed election, but said it would not join a unity government until ex-president Laurent Gbagbo was freed.
The party’s interim president, Mamadou Koulibaly, was speaking to journalists after a five-hour closed-door meeting of members of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) in Abidjan.
“The FPI is in no hurry to go there (to a unity government). It can be formed without us and then, when our conditions are met, we will be ready,” Koulibaly said. “Conditions of security, of the release of our comrades, must be met, say our activists. Then can we seriously consider joining the government.”
Gbagbo’s refusal to step down, despite U.N.-certified results showing Ouattara had won the election, triggered a violent standoff culminating in French and U.N. forces bombing Gbagbo’s compound, enabling pro-Ouattara troops to seize him.
Ouattara’s offer of a unity government is partly aimed at starting a process of national reconciliation after a decade of war, instability, and ethnic division.
But Koulibaly told Radio France International on Tuesday that a “unity government is not necessarily the answer.”
“The RHDP (Ouattara’s party) won this election against our party, which was in power for 10 years. The RHDP is in power and it can go ahead and create its government, our comrades say,” Koulibaly told the journalists on Wednesday.
Gbagbo is being held in the north, and Ouattara is unlikely to agree to release him or his top aides. Ouattara wants Gbagbo tried for alleged crimes against humanity committed in the aftermath of his refusal to quit.
His party leader, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, and his deputy, Simone Gbagbo, wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, are also both under arrest.
Around 3,000 people were killed during the conflict in the world’s top cocoa producer and a million more fled their homes in the main city Abidjan alone.
Amnesty International said on Wednesday that forces loyal to both Gbagbo and Ouattara had committed war crimes: [ID:nLDE74N2AR]
“Hundreds of people have been unlawfully killed, often only on the grounds of their ethnicity and presumed political affiliation. Women and adolescents have been victims of sexual violence, including rape, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes.”
Ouattara now faces the tough task of balancing reconciliation with justice for those responsible for the most serious crimes.
Ouattara has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the most serious allegations on both sides, which include mass killings, rape, kidnap and executions.
But he also wants a South African-style national truth and reconciliation commission.
“We talk about national reconciliation and truth, but at the same time we talk about justice. Our activists questioned whether it will be real justice or the justice of revenge,” Koulibaly said.
Editing by Kevin Liffey