The Obama administration is in discussions with a number of countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on how to ensure that U.N. forces “can continue to maintain peace and stability in Côte d’Ivoire as this situation unfolds,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said December 22.
The United States has joined ECOWAS in calling for Laurent Gbagbo to acknowledge his defeat in the country’s November 28 presidential election and allow President-elect Alassane Ouattara to assume office.
Along with refusing to hand over power, Gbagbo has demanded that the 9,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force withdraw from the country. The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution on December 20 to extend the force’s mandate until June 30, 2011.
“We believe that the United Nations force in Côte d’Ivoire has had a great stabilizing effect,” Crowley said. Reinforcing the peacekeepers “could be another way to send a clear message” to Gbagbo that “he has to step down,” he added.
Crowley said the United States hopes that the use of force will not be necessary to resolve the political standoff. But, given Gbagbo’s call for the U.N. force to depart, “we can’t rule out that at some point in time he may challenge the presence of that force through force of his own,” and “we want to make sure that the U.N. has the capability to maintain peace and stability in Côte d’Ivoire while this is being worked through,” he said.
He also refuted Gbagbo’s claims that the situation inside Côte d’Ivoire has been peaceful. Crowley said the United States is concerned over abuses that reportedly have been committed by armed militia or “thugs” who are at Gbagbo’s disposal.
“The international community is documenting widespread human rights abuses occurring in the country, from home abductions to a feared mass grave in Abidjan,” Crowley said. The International Criminal Court is monitoring the situation and the United Nations Human Rights Council plans a special session on December 23 to address these abuses, he said.
Crowley said Gbagbo must accept the results of the November 28 election. “From our standpoint, this is not negotiable,” he said.
“The certified results irrefutably show that President-elect Ouattara was the winner. Credible, accredited and independent election observers have declared the election to be fair, and reported no incidences of fraud that would change the outcome as announced by the electoral commission,” he said.
The Obama administration wants to see Côte d’Ivoire remain stable and emerge under new leadership, Crowley said. “That’s our objective, and we’re doing everything that we can to achieve that objective.”