Ivory Coast minister to meet ex-president Gbagbo to discuss return

Ivory Coast’s former President Laurent Gbagbo flashes two thumbs-up during his inauguration at the presidential palace in Abidjan 4 December, 2010. PHOTO:REUTERS

An Ivory Coast minister said Thursday he would shortly meet ousted ex-president Laurent Gbagbo to discuss his return home to help heal national divisions.

In an interview with AFP, National Reconciliation Minister Kouadio Konan Bertin said he would go to the Ghanaian capital of Accra next week.

From there, “I am going to Brussels to meet Laurent Gbagbo,” he said.

The “conditions” for the former president’s return will be discussed, he said, without giving details.

The minister gave no date for the talks, but “the principle (of the meeting) has been reached,” and it was being carried out with the approval of President Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo’s long-standing rival.

“I am acting in his name,” he said.

Gbagbo, 75, was ousted in April 2011 after refusing to concede electoral defeat to Ouattara, triggering violence that claimed around 3,000 lives.

He and a former right-hand man, Charles Ble Goude, were tried on charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

They were acquitted in January 2019 and remain free pending the outcome of an appeal. Gbagbo is currently in Brussels.

The former president retains significant political clout at home, through his party and a regional stronghold.

After bitterly contested presidential elections in October, Ouattara offered an olive branch to Gbagbo, apparently believing that his predecessor could help ease tensions.

Ouattara issued him with a diplomatic passport in addition to an ordinary one, but since then, there has been no movement in Gbagbo’s plans — initially set for December — to come back.

Bertin, who trailed a distant third in the October 31 poll, described Gbagbo as a “major figure” in Ivorian politics “whose opinion should be taken into account.”

His return should be “negotiated… in order to consolidate social peace,” he said.

Bertin also said he would go to The Hague to meet a close aide of Goude, who also wants to return.

Gbagbo’s return is one of the big issues in talks on ending the post-election rift, gathering the government on one side and opposition figures who boycotted the poll on the other.

The opposition said that Ouattara had already served two terms in office and his third term violated the constitution — a claim Ouattara denies on the grounds that a constitutional revision reset the presidential tenure to zero.

The ICC has given Gbagbo authorisation to travel outside of Belgium, provided the host country accepts him.