Soldiers loyal to then president-elect Alassane Ouattara move through the main city of Abidjan on April 6. CNS photos

Clashes and airport closure hinder papal envoy’s trip to the troubled country

VATICAN CITY – Fighting in Ivory Coast and an airport shutdown prevented the pope’s personal envoy from entering the country for talks aimed at peace and reconciliation.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, had been stuck in Accra, Ghana, since April 1 and returned to Rome on April 8 after he was unable to get a flight into Ivory Coast.

“It was not possible to enter” and the only flights into the country were for United Nations’ staff, he told Vatican Radio on April 9.

The cardinal said he asked the UN if he could travel on one of its planes leaving from Accra, but they “did not want to take this risk of bringing a person who was not a member of its staff into a very delicate and dangerous situation”.

He said he spoke by phone with the nuncio in Abidjan and with the president of the Ivorian bishops’ conference to talk about the unfolding situation there.

“I wanted to bring the pope’s message to the Ivorian bishops’ conference” in person, he said.

Pope Benedict XVI had sent the Ghanaian cardinal as his personal envoy to show his solidarity with the people affected by the conflict and to offer support for efforts for peace and reconciliation.

Army forces and militia supporting then president-elect Alassane Ouattara had been clashing with security personnel and mercenaries loyal to outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to leave office after Mr Ouattara was declared the winner of elections in November.

French and UN forces on the ground in Abidjan arrested Mr Gbagbo on April 11. Mr Ouattara has since assumed office.

In an informal interview with journalists on April 11, Cardinal Turkson said he had wanted to go to Ivory Coast as a follow-up to a February gathering in the country that had gathered political, religious and community leaders in an effort to resolve the post-election impasse.

“While I couldn’t get my foot into Ivory Coast,” he said, the people, including top political leaders, “knew I was trying to get in” and that the pope and the Vatican were concerned about the escalating violence.

A Caritas official said the situation still calls for caution after Mr Gbagbo’s arrest.

“In several districts of Abidjan youth from both sides were armed, and fighting between them continued,” Mr Jean Djoman, director of Development and Human Promotion for Caritas in Abidjan, told Fides news agency.

“When security forces backed by the UN are deployed to the neighbourhoods, they will risk confrontation with the various armed groups.”

Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for an end to the bloodshed in Ivory Coast and Libya, saying hatred and violence never led to victory.

“Violence and hatred are always a failure! For this reason I am making a new and urgent appeal to all sides involved to begin working for peace and dialogue and prevent further bloodshed,” he said at the end of his weekly general audience on April 6. -  AGENCIES

Left: Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

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