Ivory Coast’s Ouattara meets rival for first time since 2010

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, right, shakes hands with his predecessor and former rival Laurent Gbagbo, left, at the presidential palace in Abidjan, on July 27, 2021 during their first talks since Gbagbo returned last month from Europe after a nearly 10-year absence. (PHOTO / AFP)

Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara and his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo met for talks Tuesday for the first time since 2010 when their rivalry triggered a civil war in the West African nation.

Their initial greeting, hugging and holding hands outside the presidential palace in the commercial hub, Abidjan, set the tone for an encounter that should help further ease political tensions in the world’s top cocoa producer.

Laurent Gbagbo, 76, was charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court after his refusal to concede defeat to Ouattara in 2010 elections sparked a five-month conflict that left more than 3,000 dead or missing

ALSO READ: Ivory Coast creates sanctuary to protect turtles, sharks

“The crisis is behind us,” Ouattara said after the meeting. “What matters is peace in Ivory Coast. We must work to move forward.”

Gbagbo, 76, was charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court after his refusal to concede defeat to Ouattara in 2010 elections sparked a five-month conflict that left more than 3,000 dead or missing. While the Hague-based tribunal acquitted Gbagbo in March, he was tried and sentenced in absentia in Ivory Coast for looting the local branch of the Central Bank of West African States during the post-electoral crisis.

While the talks could pave the way for Gbagbo to secure amnesty for his domestic conviction, Ouattara didn’t speak publicly on the matter Tuesday. Gbagbo urged his successor, who’s said he’s committed to uniting the country after a decade of acrimony, to secure the release of civil war prisoners in a post-meeting address to reporters.

READ MORE: Ivory Coast blames terrorists for border attacks targeting army

The former leader’s return to the country last month has already galvanized a fragmented opposition, which participated in legislative elections in March after boycotting last year’s presidential vote. An amnesty could restore his full civil rights, allowing him to stand for office in 2025.

Fitch Ratings last week upgraded Ivory Coast’s credit rating to BB- with a stable outlook, saying that political risk in the world’s top cocoa grower continued its long-term decline and “the risk of an escalation of political divisions into armed conflict has materially receded over the past decade.”