By Nangayi Guyson – Abidjan – Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo resistance to stay in power is almost coming to end after forces loyal to Presidential claimant Ouattara, launched a major assault on his last strongholds in Abidjan and driving home their campaign to oust him.
The UN says three generals loyal to Laurent Gbagbo are negotiating terms for surrender in return for guarantees of safety for them and Mr Gbagbo.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told the National Assembly in Paris that negotiators are on the brink of agreeing his departure, “We are very close to convincing him to leave power.” he said.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said two Ivory Coast generals were involved in negotiating the surrender of Gbagbo, who had clung to power since refusing to concede he lost last November’s presidential election to Alassane Ouattara.
A Gbagbo spokesperson said the incumbent was negotiating the terms of his exit based on the recognition of Ouattara as president. The spokesperson said the negotiations covered security guarantees for Gbagbo and his relatives.
Gbagbo’s forces earlier called for a ceasefire and French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said the West African country’s crisis could be resolved in a matter of hours.
A Reuters eyewitness said on Tuesday that calm had returned to the area surrounding the presidential palace after days of fierce machine gun and heavy weapons fire – a sign that the conflict could be nearing an end.
“We are in a situation where everything could be resolved in the next few hours,” Longuet told a news conference.
“There are direct negotiations based on African Union recommendations which said Alassane Ouattara is president,” Don Mello told Reuters.
“They are also negotiating judicial and security conditions for Gbagbo’s camp and his relatives,” Mello said, adding that they are talking to the French government which is relaying the talks to the Ouattara camp.
“It looks like Gbagbo is trying to negotiate his way out. What he can offer is another matter. He is in the process of being militarily defeated so his negotiating position is much weaker than a couple of weeks ago,” said Hannah Koep, Ivory Coast analyst at London-based consultancy Control Risks.
The conflict in the West African cocoa-growing nation pushed cocoa prices lower on Tuesday as dealers bet on a swift end to Gbagbo’s rule and a resumption of exports. The country’s defaulted $2.3bn Eurobond rose as the assault raised expectations for repayment.
In the north of Abidjan, bullet-riddled bodies lay by the side of the main motorway near the largely pro-Gbagbo neighbourhood of Yopougon, evidence of recent fighting between Ouattara and Gbagbo forces, a Reuters witness said.
Mr Gbagbo’s army chief, Gen Philippe Mangou, told the AFP news agency his troops had stopped fighting.
“Following the bombardment by the French forces on some of our positions and certain strategic points in the city of Abidjan, we have ourselves stopped fighting and have asked the general commanding [Unoci] for a ceasefire,” Gen Mangou said.
UN and French helicopters had attacked several targets on Monday.
Gen Mangou deserted last week, but was said to have returned to the Gbagbo fold on Monday after an apparent change of heart.
Several thousand pro-Ouattara fighters had entered Abidjan from the north on Monday in a convoy of transporters, pick-ups mounted with machine guns, and 4x4s loaded with fighters bearing AK-47s and rocket launchers – in a “final assault”.
Their commanding officer, Issiaka “Wattao” Ouattara, told Reuters he had 4 000 men with him plus 5 000 already in Abidjan, and that it would take 48 hours to take control of the city.
More than 1 500 people have died in the standoff that has rekindled the country’s 2001-3 civil war, though the real toll is likely much higher.