ACCRA (AFP) – Ivory Coast's fragile peace will fracture unless former president Laurent Gbagbo is released from the International Criminal Court's custody and allowed to return home, his spokesman told AFP Saturday.
Justin Kone Katinan, Gbagbo's ex-budget minister, is wanted in his home country for economic crimes allegedly committed as Gbagbo's regime crumbled during the civil conflict that followed disputed 2010 polls.
Last month, Ghana denied Ivory Coast's extradition request, and Katinan said he would remain in Ghana and continue to speak on behalf of Gbagbo, the man he calls Ivory Coast's legitimate president.
"My duty is to explain to the world that president Gbagbo is innocent and that his people want him back," Katinan said. "As long as he will be kept in this situation (ICC custody), the reconciliation in Ivory Coast will be compromised."
Gbagbo and his camp refused to accept Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara's victory in the fiercely contested polls.
An estimated 3,000 people were killed in the fighting that followed the vote.
After his arrest in April 2011, Gbagbo was transferred to the ICC in The Hague, accused of fomenting the violence.
Ouattara's critics have charged him with pursuing victor's justice by only punishing those who supported Gbagbo.
But the Ouattara administration counters that Gbagbo loyalists are actively trying to destabilise the country and unseat the president.
"People are feeling humiliated in Ivory Coast," Katinan said in an interview in Accra. "You can't control people that are frustrated."
But he dismissed reports including one by the United Nations which claim that Ivorian exiles in Ghana are plotting unrest back home.
"Are the Ivorian exiles idiots?" he said, insisting those who have fled the country know they cannot combat an Ivorian government with the international community's strong backing.
There have been isolated but deadly shootings along the countries' shared border which have been blamed on Ivorian dissidents.
Ghana's ruling National Democratic Congress party was seen by some as being allied with Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI).
But Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama has publicly vowed to crack down on any Ivorian exiles looking to sow chaos in their home country.
Katinan was arrested in Accra in August 2012, beginning a year-long legal saga that saw him released, re-arrested and charged with murder before being granted bail.
The court's decision to deny the extradition request appeared to end the legal wranglings, although Ghanaian prosecutors may appeal.