The possibility of foreign military intervention in Ivory Coast has drawn closer following the failure of top West African envoys to persuade incumbent President Lauren Gbagbo to lay down his office.
The envoys -- the presidents of Sierra Leone, Benin, and Cape Verde -- met Gbagbo in the main Ivorian city of Abidjan on December 28 and gave him an ultimatum: step aside for his legally elected successor Alassane Ouattara or face intervention by troops of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS.
The talks ended without Gbagbo conceding defeat. He is refusing to recognize as legitimate Outtara's win in the November run-off election, a result which has been accepted by the international community.
And a Gbagbo spokesman, Ahoua Don Melo, said any military action by West African states neighboring Ivory Coast would be "political delinquency" and unlawful.
The trio of presidents who met Gbagbo say more talks are necessary, and according to officials in the Gbagbo government these are expected to take place around January 2.
Cape Verde President Pedro Pires told reporters some progress has been made, but more work needs to be done to resolve the crisis before any prospect of military action.
"We can't think like that, success or failure. What we know is that we have done valid work here, not more than that," Pires said.
Gbagbo maintains he is the victim of an international plot led by Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler France, and the United States.
Officials in Washington have called that absurd. But U.S. and European officials are known to be privately worried that military intervention could be at the cost of high civilian casualties, or could even reignite the civil war which divided the country for five years until a 2007 peace agreement.
In a sign of mounting tensions, a crowd attacked a United Nations convoy on December 28, wounding one peacekeeper with a machete and setting fire to a vehicle, according to a statement issued by the UN mission in Ivory Coast.
The cause of the disturbance, which took place in a pro-Gbagbo region, is not clear. But hundreds of UN peacekeepers are protecting his rival Ouattara at a hotel in Abidjan. The trio of West African presidents met him there on December 28, spending three hours in private talks.
No details of the discussions were released, but The Associated Press quotes a senior unnamed adviser to Ouattara as saying ECOWAS troops would be coming much sooner than anyone expected.
compiled from agency reports