ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – The internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast’s presidential election is asking for special forces to launch a commando operation to remove the country’s defiant sitting president who has refused to cede power five weeks after losing the vote.
Hunkered down at a hotel guarded by United Nations peacekeepers, Alassane Ouattara told the Associated Press on Thursday that Laurent Gbagbo would try to flee if the regional Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, sent in troops to oust him.
“I know Mr. Gbagbo,” Ouattara said. “If he sees that ECOWAS troops are coming to capture him, believe me he will start running away. I know him well. He does not have the courage to face those type of situations.”
While the U.N. and other world powers recognize Ouattara as the winner of the Nov. 28 presidential runoff, Gbagbo has refused to step down, insisting he was the victor. The political standoff has paralyzed this once prosperous country, the world’s largest cocoa producer, and tensions over the outcome have sparked violence, with the U.N. confirming at least 173 deaths.
While ECOWAS has threatened military action against Gbagbo, African leaders in recent days have shied away from making a commitment, fearing mass casualties and a possible return to civil war.
Ouattara, 68, addressed those concerns in the AP interview, saying that if West African nations “do send in special forces with the objective of removing Mr. Gbagbo, he will be removed, without much damage.”
An ECOWAS military operation would not take much time or many resources, and Gbagbo would cave in immediately, said Ouattara, who is protected at the hotel by U.N. peacekeeping troops.
He added that elite forces have carried out similar operations in Latin America and Africa “to remove the person who is the problem.”
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and the strongest of ECOWAS’ 15 members, has a large military and the kind of special forces that Ouattara is calling for. But participation of Nigerian commandos would require the approval of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who as recently as Tuesday said more time is needed to resolve the Ivory Coast standoff.