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03.01.2011 Ivory Coast

African team 'to offer amnesty' to Ivory Coast's Gbagbo

 Will West African leaders convince Laurent Gbagbo (left) to cede power? Will West African leaders convince Laurent Gbagbo (left) to cede power?
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A delegation of African leaders is due in Ivory Coast in a new effort to persuade its incumbent president to step down following disputed elections.

Leaders from Benin, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone and Kenya are expected to make an amnesty offer to Laurent Gbagbo if he quits, the BBC has learned.

West African states have said they will remove him by force if he does not.

The UN and the African Union regard Mr Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Ouattara, as the winner of the 28 November election.

The heads of state travelling to Ivory Coast are Benin's Boni Yayi, Sierra Leone's Ernest Bai Koroma and Cape Verde's Pedro Pires - who represent the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

It is their second visit in less than a week. Last Tuesday they flew to Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial capital, but failed to convince Mr Gbagbo to stand down.

On Monday they will be joined by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, representing the African Union.

"He will seek a peaceful settlement to the election crisis... and seek an assurance of safety and security for Mr Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters, if he agrees to cede power," Mr Odinga's office said in a statement.

He was one of the first African leaders to call for military intervention to oust Mr Gbagbo.

Sierra Leone's Information Minister, Ibrahim Ben-Kargbo, said the leaders would tell Mr Gbagbo to step down and did not intend to negotiate with him.

But a source within the African delegation told the BBC that the incumbent would be offered a legal amnesty, as well as a guarantee that his financial assets would be secure if he left office.

The UN says some 200 people have been killed or have disappeared in the past month - mostly supporters of Mr Ouattara.

UN peacekeepers in the country say security forces have twice blocked them from visiting the site of one of two alleged mass graves.

The UN has also expressed concern that some of the homes of opponents to Mr Gbagbo have been marked to identify the ethnicity of their occupants.

The Gbagbo camp has denied sanctioning abuses.
UN peacekeepers are protecting Mr Ouattara, who is holed up at a hotel in Abidjan. Mr Gbagbo has called on the 10,000-strong UN force to leave the country.

The election was intended to reunify Ivory Coast - the world's leading cocoa producer - which has been divided since a 2002 conflict.

Mr Ouattara was initially proclaimed the winner by the country's election commission - a verdict backed by the UN, which helped organise the poll.

But the Constitutional Council, headed by an ally of Mr Gbagbo, said he had won, citing irregularities in the north which is controlled by former rebels supporting Mr Ouattara.

Both men have been sworn in as president.

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