Africa Heads Offer Amnesty to Laurent Gbagbo

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IvorycoastAfrican leaders on Monday were offering Laurent Gbagbo an amnesty deal on condition he cedes the presidency peacefully to the internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast’s elections, an official said Monday.

The African heads of state traveled to Ivory Coast to give persuasion another chance before resorting to military intervention.

The presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde also visited last week without result, and this time they were being joined by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga. No developments were immediately announced.

Results tallied by the country’s electoral commission and certified by the United Nations showed Gbagbo lost the November election by a nearly 9-point margin to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo has clung to power with the backing of the army, and human rights groups accuse his security forces of abducting and killing hundreds of political opponents. The U.N. says it also has been barred entry from two suspected mass graves.

An official from the Kenyan prime minister’s office said an offer by U.S. President Barack Obama to seek an “international” role for Gbagbo and other countries’ offers of lectureship would be considered for the renegade Ivorian leader if he agrees to hand over power.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak with the press, said that Gbagbo would be guaranteed safety whether he chooses to stay in Ivory Coast or go elsewhere.

Further details on the amnesty were not available, but the official said the deal offered by the African leaders was non-negotiable.

The three visiting presidents represent the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, a 15-member regional bloc that is threatening military action to seat Ouattara. Kenya’s prime minister is representing the African Union.

Gbagbo has dismissed the international condemnation as “a foreign plot” led by France, the country’s former colonizer. In a break with the past though, the African leaders also have taken a stance against one of their own.

Col. Mohammed Yerima, a Nigerian military spokesman, said defense chiefs from ECOWAS members met on Friday to begin strategizing what sort of assault they’d use if talks fail.

President Obama tried to call Gbagbo twice last month, from Air Force One as Obama returned from Afghanistan and then a week later. Neither call reached Gbagbo; administration officials believe the Ivorian leader sought to avoid contact. So Obama wrote Gbagbo a letter, offering him an international role if he stopped clinging to power and stepped down.

But Obama also made clear that the longer Gbagbo holds on, and the more complicit he becomes in violence across the country, the more limited his options become, said a senior administration official. The official insisted on anonymity to speak about administration strategy.

A Ouattara spokesman also said opportunities for Gbagbo will dwindle if he refuses to go.

“People are still saying that if he is ready to step down, the doors are open and there will be places for him to go. We’re only asking him to go peacefully,” said Patrick Achi. “If he is taken by force, I don’t see where he’ll be able to go.”

Gbagbo, who came to power in 2000 and ruled during a brief civil war, overstayed his mandate that expired in 2005, claiming the country was too unstable to organize a poll. The election was finally held after it had been scheduled and then canceled at least six times.

In the lead-up to the November runoff, his party’s slogan was: “Either we win. Or we win.” Some have taken that to mean he never intended to step down, regardless of the results.

For several days after the vote, Gbagbo loyalists tried to prevent the election commission from releasing the outcome, and once the results were out, the constitutional council led by a Gbagbo adviser overturned them by canceling half a million ballots from opposition strongholds.

Gbagbo’s government then imposed a media blackout, yanking foreign channels off the air. He called on the United Nations peacekeeping mission to leave the country, accusing them of backing his opponent, who is holed up in a beachside hotel in the commercial capital of Abidjan.

Associated Press writers Tom Maliti in Nairobi, Kenya and Julie Pace in Honolulu, Hawaii contributed to this report.

Source: The Associated Press.