By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA .South Africa, Togo and Angola are possible safe havens for Ivory Coast's besieged Laurent Gbagbo should he negotiate an exit from his West African country, African Union sources said Wednesday.
Mauritania and Gambia were also being touted as forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Ouattara, launched what was billed as a final assault on the presidential compound in Abidjan, where Mr. Gbagbo was hunkered down.
"South Africa has offered several times before and Togo is now indicating to us that it could be willing to take him in," a senior AU official in the Ethiopian capital said of Mr. Gbagbo's asylum choices.
"Togo is not a great option, though, as there will obviously be fears that he could cause problems and spoil peace from there -it's so close to Ivory Coast. I'm betting strongly on South Africa," added the official, who declined to be named.
Two other diplomats in Addis Ababa also said they had heard South Africa and Togo had made asylum offers, while reports circulating at AU headquarters suggested Angola as another possibility.
"Angola has always been pro-Gbagbo," said one Western diplomat.
"I think there's a good likelihood of Angola taking him in if there's a settlement. You only have to look at their history."
The United Nations said in March it was investigating suspected arms transfers to Ivory Coast in breach of an embargo, including a cargo delivery from Angola.
There were also regular reports in 2002 that Angola supplied arms including armoured vehicles to Ivory Coast when rebels tried to oust Mr. Gbagbo from the presidency.
Angola has denied that mercenaries from the country have fought for Mr. Gbagbo.
AU diplomats said Uganda was an outside bet to shelter the Ivorian strongman. This year, Yoweri Museveni, its long-serving President, attacked the United Nations for recognizing Mr. Ouattara as the election winner.
Mr. Museveni, who won his own disputed presidential poll in February and faced possible opposition protests, said there should be an investigation into the Ivory Coast poll.
Meanwhile, forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara launched a heavy and sustained attack on the bunker where Mr. Gbagbo was defying efforts to force him to surrender and leave the country. By lunchtime, the troops were inside the compound.
The former colonial power, France has taken a lead role in talks to persuade Mr. Gbagbo to hand over power to his rival Mr. Ouattara and end a four-month standoff over a November election that UNcertified results say Mr. Ouattara won.
Alain Juppé, the French Foreign Minister, who was involved in the mediation between the warring groups, said Mr. Gbagbo had "no future" and it was "absurd" for him to hang on.
"The negotiations that were carried out for hours yesterday between the entourage of Laurent Gbagbo and Ivorian authorities have failed because of Gbagbo's intransigence," he told parliament in Paris.
Mr. Gbagbo refused to sign a UN document acknowledging Mr. Ouattara had won the election.
"I do not recognize the victory of Ouattara. Why would you want me to sign this?" he told France's LCI news channel. "We are not at the negotiating stage. And my departure from where? To go where? For peace to return to Ivory Coast, I and Ouattara, the two of us, have to talk."
Mr. Gbagbo's spokesman said the assault on his residence, where he was thought to be accompanied by his wife Simone and some of his seven children and stepchildren, was an attempt by France to "assassinate" him.
But a spokesman for proOuattara forces said Mr. Gbagbo would be handed over to Mr. Ouattara.
"We are going to his residence to fetch him and put an end to this comedy. This charade must end because the country is collapsing," he said.
Source: National Post