Weeks after being captured following a protracted post-election standoff, Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast’s former president, has urged supporters to drop political quarrels and help the country revive its economy.
“I insist that there be an economic and security revival, and after that we can talk about politics,” Gbagbo told a news conference on Monday in a presidential residence in the northern city of Korhogo where he is under house arrest.
Gbagbo was ousted from power on April 11 by forces loyal to his successor Alassane Ouattara, backed by French and UN troops deployed to help end a four-month power struggle that rights groups have said killed thousands.
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His supporters have continued to battle government forces in pro-Gbagbo areas of the main city Abidjan. Residents in the Yopougon district reported heavy weapons fire on Monday after security forces deployed to the western neighbourhood.
The bloody political crisis in the world’s top cocoa grower paralysed the economy and froze exports from late-January, driving cocoa futures prices to record highs. Exporters expect shipments to resume within days.
South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, part of a delegation meeting Gbagbo that also included former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said he was heartened by the former president’s comments.
“We are very, very pleased that the former president wants to see his country return to normality,” said Tutu, a member of The Elders group brought together by former South African leader Nelson Mandela in 2007 to work on peace and human rights issues.
Annan said Gbagbo “did not give the impression that he disputed the victory of Alassane Ouattara in November’s presidential election; he has accepted it. In our conversations with him, the language was clear.”
The delegation also met Ouattara to urge reconciliation, and asked him to keep his promise to form a truth and reconciliation body.
Ouattara has said he will form a unity government with members of Gbagbo’s party by the end of May, with the aim of restoring full security to the country by June.
Abuses to be probed
Forces loyal to both Ouattara and Gbagbo have both been accused of committing atrocities in the fighting which erupted after Gbagbo refused to quit after the November 28 presidential election.
Ouattara has launched a criminal probe against Gbagbo, his wife Simone and 100 other close associates over alleged rights abuses, notably the lethal attacks by his security forces on opposition protesters after the election.
US-based Human Rights Watch has said forces loyal to Ouattara killed hundreds of civilians, raped more than 20 supporters of Gbagbo, and burned at least 10 villages in the west of Ivory Coast as they advanced on Abidjan last month.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Monday that he planned to ask judges “very soon” to open an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ivory Coast following last November’s election.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in an interview with The Associated Press his office had been in discussions with Ouattara’s government about whether it could launch an investigation on its own.
“They are telling me that they cannot conduct an investigation themselves, so … they agree that I should do it,” if authorised by the ICC, he said.