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African leader urges negotiations with Laurent Gbagbo, as U.N. boosts food aid.
As African mediators in the Ivory Coast political standoff vowed to negotiate Laurent Gbagbo's removal from power, despite the threat of military force, the U.N. stepped up food drops to 22,000 Ivorian refugees who fled the post-election crisis.
The refugees, including supporters of both presidential rivals, Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo, fled villages between Danane and Guiglo in the west of Ivory Coast to neighboring Liberia, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
Seven trucks were being mobilized to carry supplies to 23 villages in eastern Liberia's Nimba county where refugees are continuing to arrive.
Most of those who have fled violence and the tense political standoff in the West African country are women and children. Another 222 Ivorians have fled to Guinea while 19 have sought refuge in Ghana, according to the UNHCR.
West African leaders have threatened to use military force to oust Gbagbo, who is clinging to power more than a month after losing the presidential runoff vote to Ouattara.
Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the African Union's envoy in recent talks to persuade Gbagbo to step down, said mediation took time, giving his own experience as an example. Kenyan political rivals disputed the presidential poll results three years ago and violence broke out, leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 people. It took two months to negotiate an end to the crisis.
Odinga said Wednesday that mediators in the Ivory Coast political crisis would "go the extra mile" to negotiate Gbagbo's removal from power to avoid the bloodshed that would likely occur if force is used.
West African leaders, meantime, said that a promise by Gbagbo to resolve his country's political crisis peacefully did not remove the threat of a regional military force to drive him from office.
"Let me say, without any equivocation, that a military option is still on the cards," said James Gbeho, the president of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is leading the negotiations with Gbagbo. "However, ECOWAS and [African Union] are telling you now that, even if there is a half-percent chance of resolving the problem peacefully, they will exploit it. And, their initial contacts with both President Gbagbo and President Ouattara indicated some promise of getting them to agree on certain essential elements in order to obviate the force option."