Under-siege Ivorian leader begins talks on surrender
Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast's incumbent president, is said to be on the verge of surrender and negotiating terms with the French from a bunker in his under-siege residence in Abidjan.
A UN document was circulated last night claiming that the surrender had been agreed, however, a spokesman later said that discussions were ongoing.
Close aides have already defected and three military generals previously allied to Mr Gbagbo have asked him to hand over arms and ammunition in return for protection, according to a UN spokesman. Mr Gbagbo also sent his foreign minister to the French Embassy where he negotiated with UN officials for the cessation of air strikes that have destroyed his heavy weapons cache.
"I was sent by President Gbagbo to negotiate a ceasefire and we negotiated all night and reached an agreement this morning," Alcide Djedje told France 24 TV. Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, told his parliament that two generals were also negotiating for Mr Gbagbo's surrender, after a four-month stand-off following November's disputed elections in the West African nation.
Gerard Longuet, the French defence minister, said the country's political crisis could be resolved in a matter of hours; while Alain Juppe, the foreign minister, said the international community was pushing for Mr Gbagbo to sign a document handing power to Alassane Ouattara, the recognised president, as a condition of his departure.
However, charities have warned that the humanitarian crisis could just be beginning.
The British Red Cross and Oxfam have launched emergency appeals to help the one million people who have been displaced by the violence and thousands more who are trapped in their homes and running low on supplies of food, water and medication.
The UN launched air strikes in Abidjan to disable Mr Gbagbo's weapons on Monday afternoon after his forces attacked its base and fired into densely-inhabited areas.
The crisis that unfolded after elections in Ivory Coast in November has claimed the lives of an estimated 1,500 people so far. Hamadoun Toure, the spokesman for UNOCI, the UN mission to Ivory Coast, said the UN strikes had stopped, but that it remained involved with negotiations. He said Mr Gbagbo had kept his family with him throughout the past six days of fighting raging outside his residence, despite reports he had sought refuge for them in Benin.
Mr Gbagbo's hawkish wife, Simone, told supporters at a rally in January "God has given us victory" and dismissed Mr Ouattara as a "bandit chief". Commentators have suggested she has probably encouraged her husband to cling on to power.
Mr Toure added: "He is alone now, he is in his bunker with a handful of supporters and family members. So is he going to last or not? I don't know."
US president Barack Obama said he welcomed the interventions of the UN and French forces in the country, and called on President Gbagbo to "stand down immediately". (©Daily Telegraph, London)