The United Nations Security Council on Friday endorsed a peace plan for Cote d’Ivoire enabling President Laurent Gbagbo to remain on as head of state after his current mandate expires on 30 October.
The peace blueprint, which was worked out last week at an African Union (AU) summit, has been criticised by the opposition as well as by the rebel forces in control of the northern half of the West African country.
"The Security Council endorses the decision of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union on the situation in Cote d’Ivoire," read the presidential statement from the UN Security Council.
But the body made clear that it was withholding any commitment on a substantial increase to the 6,600-strong peacekeeping force, as requested by the AU at its Addis summit.
Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s top cocoa producer and once a regional beacon of peace and prosperity, has been split in two since September 2002, with the UN troops monitoring a buffer zone between the rebel north and loyalist south.
The AU plan calls for President Gbagbo to remain in office “for a period not exceeding 12 months” after his term expires 30 October.
That was the date when new elections were to have been held under the terms of the latest in a series of botched peace deals. But the failure of the rebels and of pro-government militia to hand in weapons beforehand has scuttled plans to hold the elections on deadline.
To help steer the country until elections are held, the AU plan also calls for the appointment of a new prime minister acceptable to all parties.
In a statement, the 15-member Security Council said it would support the holding of “free, fair, open, transparent and credible elections as soon as possible and no later than 30 October 2006.”
On a troop increase, the statement said members of the Security Council had taken note of the request and would consider reinforcements “based on a careful study of conditions in the country and of evidence of meaningful progress toward implementation of longstanding commitments" under a 2003 peace deal.
The Security Council also welcomed an upcoming visit to Cote d’Ivoire by AU leader and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and South African President Thabo Mbeki, who mediated the latest Ivorian peace deal on behalf of the AU.
The visit is expected to take place in the next few days, according to South African officials.
It will be followed by a trip to the West African nation by the head of the UN’s Sanctions Committee, which has threatened travel and assets freezes against individuals holding up peace.
Obasanjo and Mbeki will face a hard task convincing Gbagbo’s opponents to sign on.