By Paul Ejime
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara met on Tuesday with his predecessor and political arch-rival Laurent Gbagbo for the first time since the 2010-11 post-election civil war that killed some 3,000 in their country.
Gbagbo, 76, returned home last month from Europe following his acquittal on war crimes trial by the International Criminal Court (ICC), at The Hague.
At their joint press conference after the meeting, Ouattara, 79, said the “crisis created differences but that is behind us.”
“We will work to build confidence for our country” he tweeted, adding: “What is important for Cote d’Ivoire is peace…”
For his part, Gbagbo called for the release of prisoners held since the 2010/11 crisis, triggered when both men claimed victory in the December 2010 presidential election.
Gbagbo, who still enjoys considerable support in the country, was elected to power in 2000 and had been declared winner of the 2010 poll by the National Electoral Commission.
But the Constitutional Court reversed the poll results in favour of Ouattara, with the backing of the international community led by France. Gbagbo was subsequently taken to the Hague for trial.
Meanwhile, Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term mandate and his eventual victory in last October’s vote, which was boycotted by some opposition parties resulted in violence with dozens killed from clashes between security forces and supporters of the opposition coalition.
Political observers say it would be premature to read too much into Tuesday’s meeting by the two political rivals.
Earlier this month, Gbagbo also met with another key Ivorian political figure, former President Henri Konan Bedie, 87, with both men pledging to unite toward forging “sustainable peace” in the country.
While Ouattara could be hoping to ease tensions by rraching out to his opponents, a sticking point is the 20-year jail sentence handed on Gbagbo, during his trial in absentia for alled fraud at the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) during the 2010-11 conflict.
There were fillers that he could be pardoned.
But with presidential elections due only in four years’ time, it is believed that the deep-rooted political, ethnic and religious divisions as well as the national identity questions in Cote d’Ivoire cannot disappear overnight.