Ouattara will be able to return safety to I. Coast: Nigeria

12th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara will be able to return home safely despite a ban imposed by his rival Laurent Gbagbo on all UN and French military flights, a Nigerian minister said Friday.

"We dont have any fears about that," junior foreign minister Salamatu Suleiman, said in response to a reporters' question about how Ouattara, internationally recognised as the country's president, could return.

"There are enough facilities put in place for his safe return to Cote d'Ivoire," she said, using the country's French name.

Suleiman was speaking after talks between Ouattara and Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan.

Gbago's camp on Wednesday banned UN and French forces from overflying Ivorian territory, a move condemned by the United Nations and the French government.

Observers said the ban was designed to make it more difficult for Ouattara to return to Abidjan this weekend.

Ouattara flew out of Ivory Coast to attend the African Union meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa that confirmed him as the duly elected president following last November's presidential election.

Traditionally it is the helicopters of ONUCI, the United Nations operation in Ivory Coast that look after the transport of leading figures in the Ouattara camp.

They ferry them in and out of the Golf Hotel where Ouattara and his team have been entrenched since mid-December.

His base is surrounded by forces loyal to Gbagbo, who has refused to acknowledge electoral defeat, but protected by UN peacekeepers.

In Abuja, Ouattara told reporters as he emerged from Friday's talks, that he had come to brief Jonathan on the meeting he held with a panel of heads of states in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

"The AU confirmed that I am the elected president of Cote d'Ivoire and so I have come to see my brother President Jonathan to thank him for his support," he said.

"I think the relations between Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire will strengthen."

On Thursday the African Union's Peace and Security Council endorsed Ouattara after months of trying to broker a solution to his stand-off with Gbagbo. Jonathan is the chair of the council.

Jonathan is also the current head of the West African regional grouping ECOWAS, which has from the start threatened the use of force if Gbagbo does not step down in favour of Ouattara.

The decision by the special AU panel tasked with ending the Ivorian crisis to confirm Ouattara's victory, was immediately rejected by Gbagbo's camp, as sporadic fighting continued in the west African country.

Ouattara arrived Friday from Addis Ababa and is due to spend 48 hours in the Nigerian capital. The schedule for the rest of this stay was not revealed.

© 2011 AFP

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