Africa

Ivory Coast: Ouattara wants commandos to snatch Gbagbo

Ecowas soldiers training in Senegal in 2007
Image caption Ecowas has already started drawing up plans for a regional intervention force

The UN-recognised president-elect of Ivory Coast has called for a West African special forces operation to remove incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.

Alassane Ouattara's administration says the time for discussion with Mr Gbagbo, who is refusing to step down following November's election, is over.

The West African regional body Ecowas has threatened to force Mr Gbagbo out, but is trying mediation efforts first.

Mr Gbagbo still has the public backing of the army and control of state media.

The election was intended to reunify the country which has been divided since a 2002 conflict.

Mr Ouattara remains behind a blockade at a hotel in the main city Abidjan, protected by UN peacekeepers and New Forces former rebels who control the north of the country.

Separately on Thursday, the US announced it had frozen the assets of Mr Gbagbo, his wife and three aides.

'Key buildings'

Ecowas has already started drawing up plans for a regional intervention force.

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Media captionAlassane Ouattara: "The day Laurent Gbagbo leaves everyone will be happy"

But the BBC's John James in Abidjan says it is not clear how ready the countries in the region are to contribute troops to an intervention that could potentially face a regular army numbering 18,000 men.

However, Mr Ouattara, who has many supporters in northern Ivory Coast, said it was just a question of removing Mr Gbagbo from power and taking control of key buildings like the presidential palace.

"Legitimate force doesn't mean a force against Ivorians," Mr Ouattara told reporters on Thursday, AFP news agency reports.

"It's a force to remove Laurent Gbagbo and that's been done elsewhere, in Africa and in Latin America, there are non-violent special operations which allow simply to take the unwanted person and take him elsewhere."

However, Ecowas does not have the sophisticated equipment and personnel needed for a special forces operation, our reporter says.

The former colonial power France, which has 900 soldiers on the ground, says it will not intervene.

There are an estimated 10,000 UN troops in Ivory Coast - and the mission has sent a request to the UN Security Council for an extra 1-2,000.

Meanwhile on Thursday the US said it was barring US citizens from financial dealings with Mr Gbagbo.

Adam Szubin, of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said the US wanted to "isolate him and his inner circle from the world's financial system and underscore the desire of the international community that he step down".

'Wild West'

The UN peacekeeping chief in Ivory Coast, Alan Le Roy, has warned that recent ethnic clashes could be "the start of conflict in the west".

At least 14 people have died in fighting in the last three days around the town of Duekoue between groups that support opposing sides in the crisis over the disputed election.

Although the unrest is not directly related to the power-struggle, Duekoue - some 500km (300 miles) west of Abidjan - is close to the north-south ceasefire line that splits the country.

The region is known as the Wild West and has long been one of the most unstable regions of Ivory Coast and saw clashes at the height of the civil war, our reporter says.

The inter-ethnic violence shows how instability could spread if the stand-off continues and the state starts to lose control of the situation, he says.

The tension in the west has already pushed members of both communities to flee into neighbouring Liberia - some 22,000 people have crossed the border so far, the UN says.

On Thursday, the Liberian government announced plans to build a refugee camp 50km from the border.

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 country's Constitutional Council, headed by an ally of Mr Gbagbo, later ruled that he had won, citing voting irregularities in the north.

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