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Ivory Coast on 'Brink of Genocide', Says UN Envoy


A woman crosses the street in front of a burnt-out United Nations peacekeeper car on December 30 in the Yopougon neighbourhood of Abidjan. (AFP/Issouf Sanogo)

ABIDJAN/UN - Political unrest following Ivory Coast's disputed presidential election has brought the west African country to the "brink of genocide", its new ambassador to the United Nations has said.

World leaders have stepped up pressure on incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo to quit in favour of Alassane Ouattara, widely recognised as having won the election.

Youssoufou Bamba, appointed as ambassador to the United Nations by Mr Ouattara, described him as the rightful ruler of Ivory Coast.

"He has been elected in a free, fair . . . [election] the result has been proclaimed by the independent electoral commission, certified by the UN," Mr Bamba said on Wednesday. "To me the debate is over, now you are talking about how and when Mr Gbagbo will leave office."

He said there had been a "massive violation of human rights", with more than 170 people killed during street demonstrations in Ivory Coast.

"Thus, one of the messages I try to get across during the conversations I have conducted so far, is to tell we are on the brink of genocide. Something should be done," Mr Bamba said. He added that he plans to meet every member of the UN Security Council.

"I intend to meet all the 15 members . . . we expect the United Nations to be credible and the United Nations to prevent violation and to prevent the election to be stolen from the people," Mr Bamba said.

The November 28th election was meant to reunite Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa growing nation, after a 2002-3 civil war. But the disputed outcome has triggered lethal street clashes and threatens to reignite conflict.

The security council last week recognised Mr Ouattara as the country's legitimate president by unanimously deciding that the list of diplomats he submitted to the world body be recognised as the sole official representatives of Ivory Coast at the United Nations.

Meanwhile west African regional bloc, the Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) has threatened to use force to oust Mr Gbagbo. Moreover, rebels still running the north after the civil war have said they would join any intervention.

"We will fight alongside the Ecowas force to remove Laurent Gbagbo from power," said spokesman Affousy Bamba yesterday. "We are awaiting Ecowas's decision."

A delegation of three west African heads of state will return to Ivory Coast next week in an effort to persuade Mr Gbagbo, president since 2000, to cede power to Mr Ouattara or risk facing "legitimate force".

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, chairman of Ecowas, said a decision would be made after the talks and added that he hoped for a peaceful outcome.

A military official told journalists in Nigeria's capital Abuja yesterday that Ecowas defence chiefs were meeting in Nigeria's defence headquarters to map out strategies in the event Mr Gbagbo refused to cede power.

The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Mr Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the west African regional central bank have cut his financing.

Some 16,000 Ivorians have fled to Liberia and the UN is preparing for the number to nearly double.

The turmoil has pushed cocoa futures to four-month highs and Ivory Coast's Eurobond hit a record low last week on concern that the country would not meet a nearly $30 million bond payment due today.

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