The president of Ghana on Friday said his country is not able to send troops to oust the leader of Ivory Coast who is unwilling to cede office after losing presidential election in late November.
The announcement could complicate a move by a regional bloc of 15 nations in West Africa to mount a military intervention in order to allow the internationally recognized winner of the election Alassane Ouattara to assume his functions. He and his staff are barricaded inside a hotel, his exits blocked by soldiers loyal to Gbagbo.
ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, has twice sent a delegation to try to persuade Gbagbo to step down.
After the second attempt failed this week, the group began deliberating the military option. The move is controversial, however, since it could entail civilian casualties as well as reprisal attacks against expatriates from ECOWAS member countries living in Ivory Coast.
Ghanaian President John Atta Mills said he backs ECOWAS, but said his troops are already committed to other peace missions around the world — including in Ivory Coast
"Ghana's position is that even though we support the decision by ECOWAS to send a force to Ivory Coast, Ghana finds itself unable to contribute troops," because they are overstretched, he told reporters at a press conference in Accra, the capital of Ghana. "Currently, Ghana has 500 soldiers on United Nations missions in Ivory Coast who are guarding Mr. Alassane Ouattara."
The international community has been uncharacteristically united in their decision to not recognize Gbagbo because the results were carefully reviewed and certified by a special United Nations election unit.
Ouattara is under 24-hour guard at the Golf Hotel where he is guarded by some 800 U.N. peacekeepers, who have encircled the perimeter of the hotel with sandbags and razor wire.
Gbagbo came to office 10 years ago in another messy election and overstayed his legal mandate, which expired in 2005 just after the end of the nation's brief civil war. The election was rescheduled at least six times before it was finally held in October. Results from the runoff held on November 28, which were released by the electoral commission and validated by the United Nations, showed that Ouattara had won with 54 percent of the vote.
The United States, the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations' General Assembly have all recognized Ouattara as the legitimate president. It's created a dichotomy where the man that is the president-elect in the eyes of the world has no control of the institutions of state inside the country he was elected to run. Gbagbo still occupies the presidential palace and in the past week, he has stepped up the blockade on the Golf Hotel where Ouattara is holed up to the point that now the only way in or out is via a United Nations helicopter.
Ouattara has asked foreign governments to no longer recognize ambassadors appointed by Gbagbo. Several countries have asked the pro-Gbagbo ambassadors to leave, including Canada and Britain. In London, the Foreign Office notified the Ivorian diplomat on New Year's Eve that his diplomatic privileges and immunity had been suspended and that he his dependents have 31 days to leave the country.
On Thursday, the Gbagbo regime retaliated. A government spokesman said they have asked the British and Canadian ambassadors to leave Ivory Coast within 30 days.
The demand comes on the heels of an earlier declaration asking the nearly 10,000-strong United Nations mission to leave. But the force will stay and may grow. On Wednesday, Alain Le Roy, the U.N.'s peacekeeping chief said he will formally request an additional 1,000 to 2,000 peacekeepers from the Security Council to beef up the force in Ivory Coast.
The latest order does not actually impact the British ambassador, who is based in Accra. The Canadian foreign minister issued a statement saying that since Canada does not recognize Gbagbo, they do not consider the demand to remove their ambassador legitimate.
The Gbagbo regime, however, has not asked the U.S. ambassador in Abidjan to leave, even though the Gbagbo-appointed diplomat in Washington was given his 30-day notice on Dec. 30, said an Obama administration official.
Contacted by telephone in Abidjan, Pascal Affi N'Guessan, one of Gbagbo's closest advisers, said the administration would apply the principle of reciprocity equally and said he did not know why the U.S. ambassador had not yet been asked to leave.
"There is no discrimination. I think probably the foreign ministry has not yet been informed that (Ivory Coast Ambassador to Washington) Charles Koffi was told to leave. We plan to apply this to everyone."
Associated Press correspondent Rukmini Callimachi in Abidjan, Ivory Coast contributed to this report.