ECOWAS military option in Côte d'Ivoire still open

Accra- Ghana (PANA) -- With concerns over the growing number of mercenaries and easy access to arms in West Africa, regional leaders plead with rebels in Côte d'Ivoire to end the growing crisis in the country at round-table talks.
According to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional leaders adopted this "soft approach" at their summit, held Sunday in Accra, Ghana.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas said: "The move to establish contact with the rebels is not to legitimise their action .
(and) it does not mean a show of weakness.
" Chambas warned that the military option was still very high on the agenda should the rebellious soldiers fail to cooperate with an ECOWAS mediation mission.
The mediation team, comprising high-level officials from Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Togo, is supposed to start business immediately.
Its task is to "establish contact with the insurgents, prevail upon them to immediately cease all hostilities, restore normalcy to occupied towns, and negotiate a general framework for the resolution of the crisis.
" A special representative of the African Union and the ECOWAS executive secretary will work closely with the mediation team.
Eleven ECOWAS leaders who attended the summit opted for a negotiated settlement, but with the rider that their military chiefs would be working on a standby peacekeeping force.
"We cannot reward people who violate the Constitution and undermine democracy, and that message has come out very, very clearly," Chambas said.
The mutineers have been capturing Ivorian towns and receiving support, a disturbing feature that indicates Côte d'Ivoire could slide into a civil war.
Chambas said the message of abhorrence of coups was very clearly stated in the communiqué issued at the end of the regional summit.
He emphasised that no government, which comes to power through illegitimate means, would get recognition from countries of the sub-region.
"That message is there.
So it is for the rebel troops to lay down arms and allow peace and normalcy to return to Côte d'Ivoire," Chambas said.
In Abidjan irate Ivorians have burned down houses and shacks of immigrants from Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Mali, among others, when rumour spread that they were involved in the mutiny.
Chambas said the summit did not blame Burkina Faso.
"Nobody is accusing Burkina Faso and for that matter any other country in the subregion as being behind the unrest.
" Relations between President Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d'Ivoire and President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso were very cordial, Chambas said.
He explained that concern was over the growing number of "mercenaries" in the sub-region who were ready to pounce on any instability.
As Chambas put it, many people in the sub-region have access to arms and this is a threat to peace.
Whatever happens, the peace in Côte d'Ivoire is badly shattered and the country's international image badly damaged.
Its restoration would be a long and tortuous one.

30 september 2002 14:13:00

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