Tricky task for Ghana poll winner

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AFP

Ghana President John Dramani Mahama

Accra -

The winner of Ghana's presidential election on Friday will be tasked with managing a tricky relationship with neighbouring Ivory Coast, as accusations persist that Accra is allowing Ivorian dissidents to operate in its territory.

During the deadly civil conflict that followed Ivory Coast's 2010 election, Ghana's ruling National Democratic Congress party was seen as supporting ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to accept defeat sparked clashes that left some 3,000

people dead.

In an October report, the United Nations charged that Gbagbo loyalists were using Ghana as base to destabilise the current Ivorian regime of President Alassane Ouattara.

The issue has featured in the campaign ahead of Ghana's December 7 election, which pits President John Dramani Mahama of the NDC against challenger Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party.

Mahama insists he has cordial relations with the Ivorian government, but, in an interview with AFP, Akufo-Addo alleged the NDC's stance during the crisis lingers as a problem.

“There seems to be some deep-grained sympathy within elements of this (NDC) government for Laurent Gbagbo,” said Akufo-Addo.

Gbagbo is currently being held at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, awaiting a crimes against humanity trial.

Mahama was Ghana's vice president during the Ivorian crisis and took office in July following the death of his predecessor John Atta Mills.

For Akufo-Addo, the UN's findings concerning rebel command posts on Ghanaian soil are “very serious,” and undermine Ghana's status as a stabilising force in the region.

Mahama's government has cast doubt on the UN report and the president, while addressing the world body's General Assembly in September, insisted “Ghana will not allow its territory to be used to destabilise other nations.”

In September, Mahama visited Ivory Coast and told his counterpart Alassane Ouattara that he would not let Ivorian exiles plot attacks on their home country from Ghana.

A source close to the Ivorian president, who requested anonymity, said Ouattara's circle had grown comfortable with Mahama since he took office five months ago.

The source added that should Mahama win on Friday, there was hope that he would be a more cooperative partner than previous NDC leaders, notably Ghana's former president and political icon Jerry Rawlings, seen as close to Gbagbo.

But going forward, the relationship may hinge on how Ghana

handles the case of Justin Kone Katinan, Gbagbo's spokesman who fled across the border during the crisis, along with thousands of other supporters of the fallen Ivorian strongman.

Katinan was arrested in Accra in August on an Ivorian warrant and the case has seen a series of legal twists over the past three months.

Katinan is currently out on bail in Ghana, but prosecutors are seeking to extradite him to his home country where he faces charges of economic crimes committed during the crisis as well as murder allegations.

The next hearing is set for December 20.

Tensions involving the two neighbours could be seen in September, when Ivory Coast temporarily shut its land, sea and air borders with Ghana, following a deadly raid in the Ivorian border town of Noe, reportedly carried out by gunmen based on the Ghanaian side.

Ghana's election is expected to be close, with Akufo-Addo having lost by less than one percentage point four years ago.

Should he win on Friday, the diplomatic relationship would take on a new dimension, given the traditional ties between his NPP party and the current Ivorian leadership.

“Historically, there are all kinds of associations between the forces that stand behind Ouattara and our forces here in Ghana,” he told AFP. - Sapa-AFP


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