Ivory Coast's internationally recognized leader Alassane Ouattara said Saturday he will attend a meeting of African Union leaders in Ethiopia next week, in the latest bid to find a resolution to his country's escalating crisis.
The trip will mark the first time Mr. Ouattara will leave a hotel, where he has been under 24-hour UN protection since being declared winner of the Nov. 28 election. Results certified by the UN indicate Mr. Ouattara won by a landslide. But his rival, sitting President Laurent Gbagbo, is refusing to leave office.
A delegation of African leaders was supposed to come to Abidjan on Saturday but cancelled abruptly overnight, instead sending a messenger, Jean Ping, the chairman of the AU commission. Mr. Ping invited Mr. Ouattara to the meeting on March 10 in Ethiopia's capital.
“Of course I accepted this invitation, and all measures will be taken so that I may go,” Mr. Ouattara told reporters.
For him to do so, a UN helicopter will be sent to pick him up on the Golf Hotel's back lawn. He has spent the last three months behind barbed wire at the aging resort hotel, which is guarded by UN peacekeepers and whose exits are blocked by soldiers loyal to Mr. Gbagbo.
A high-level adviser to Mr. Ouattara who requested anonymity because he is closely involved in the negotiations says that Mr. Ping extended the same invitation to Mr. Gbagbo, but Mr. Gbagbo is unlikely to want to leave the country for fear of a countercoup. In 2002, when Mr. Gbagbo was visiting the pope in Rome, rebels from the country's north attempted to attack the capital, prompting the civil war that led to the partitioning of the country.
The United Nations says at least 365 people have been killed in the three-month-old conflict – most of them supporters of Mr. Ouattara. Mr. Gbagbo faced a wave of criticism on Thursday after a video showed how his army opened fire on a group of women calling for his departure. At least six were killed.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Mr. Gbagbo “selfish” for attempting to prolong his rule and a State Department spokesman described his regime as “morally bankrupt” for having attacked unarmed women.