The man widely considered to be the legitimate winner of Ivory Coast's contested presidential election said Wednesday that the military ousting of stubborn incumbent Laurent Gbagbo would not cause civil war.
"It will not end in a war because clearly ECOWAS [a 15-member bloc of West African nations] will make the decision quickly to remove him," Alassane Ouattara told The Associated Press in Abidjan. "I want this to be clear. Removing one person does not mean civil war."
ECOWAS, which stands for the Economic Community of West African States, has threatened to remove Gbagbo if negotiations fail, promising that violence would be a last resort.
But some analysts question whether ECOWAS could carry out such a mission without a full-scale invasion and civilian casualties.
Gbagbo has refused to step down even though the United Nations and other world powers recognize Ouattara as the winner in November's run-off election.
Gbagbo, who has been in power for a decade, maintains control of the military, and human rights groups accuse his security forces of killing political opponents.
The African Union's envoy to Ivory Coast said Wednesday that a military ouster should only be a last resort.
"Lives will be lost, not just lives of soldiers but also lives of innocent civilians," Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told journalists in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, following his visits to Ivory Coast and Nigeria this week. "That's really the reason why we are walking the extra mile for a peaceful resolution of this conflict."
Appeals to leave rebuffed
Odinga represented the African Union when a high-level regional delegation went to Abidjan on Monday for the second time to urge Gbagbo to leave. He has rebuffed their appeals and shown no interest in handing over power to Ouattara.
Charles Ble Goude — a minister in Gbagbo's government who heads an infamous, militia-like organization allied with the incumbent — held a rally at sunset Wednesday to warn the international community to keep its hands off.
"No army can come to Ivory Coast and remove the president.… It's not in Abidjan that such a thing will happen. Are you going to accept that?" he screamed, as the crowd fervently answered: "No!"
The international community finds itself in a difficult situation because Ivory Coast has a history of violence and the UN says security forces already have been responsible for dozens of "disappearances." UN investigators have received tips about at least two mass graves but have been prevented from visiting the sites.
Gbagbo came to power in 2000 and ruled during the civil war that erupted two years later, then overstayed his legal term which expired in 2005. The election was rescheduled at least six times before it was finally held in October.