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Côte d'Ivoire

Ecowas pressures Gbagbo to step down, as refugees flee to Liberia

Photo: Reuters/Luc Gnago

Three West African presidents met Tuesday with Côte d'Ivoire's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to pressure him to step down.As the presidential crisis continues, thousands of refugees have fled to neighbouring Liberia. 

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The presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde were sent by Ecowas, the Economic Community Of West African States, to give Gbagbo an ultimatum: to step down or the West African bloc will step in.

Although the three men did not speak to reporters in Abidjan, Benin's foreign ministry told media that the aim of their mission is to persuade the Ivorian leader to leave office "without delay".

In the wake of violence following the contested second-round presidential election, about 20,000 people have fled into neighbouring Liberia.

They are living in makeshift camps in villages, and food supplies are running low.

“The majority of them are women and children, and they are a mixed group of supporters of both Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo,” Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, of the UN’s refugee agency, told RFI.

She said 15,120 refugees have been from western Côte d'Ivoire, with another 4,000 who reportedly entered.

The UN is not building camps, on the request of the Liberian government, which is finding villages to host refugees.

“They did say they would rather have the refugees living with local communities, because they have a non-encampment policy,” said Lejeune-Kaba, adding that this could be reasonable if the numbers remain manageable.

“If we reach the worst-case scenario – for example, civil war breaking out again - obviously there will be a need to change that policy”

And food is a problem. People are living off of supplies from villages, and the government has provided some rice, but not enough.

“We could run out of supplies rather shortly, which means we would have to bring in more aid from the region,” said Lejeune-Kaba.

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