Elders group: Ivory Coast strongman accepts defeat

An elders' group led by the former U.N. chief said Monday that Ivory Coast's arrested strongman has accepted his loss in a presidential poll, months after his refusal to cede power plunged the country into chaos and bloodshed.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the group's leader, said the elders met with former strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who said he accepted the victory of President Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo is being held in the country's north after being arrested April 11.

Annan said Gbagbo "did not give the impression that he disputed the victory of Alassane Ouattara in November's presidential election; he has accepted it. In our conversations with him, the language was clear."

The elders also met with Ouattara to urge reconciliation after months of postelection violence, and asked him to keep his promise to form a truth and reconciliation body.

The elders also asked the government to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Gbagbo, his wife, and other detainees.

"We are encouraged by the president's willingness, and that of many of the people we met, to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation, but much of society is still polarized," Annan said in a statement. "People are fearful and still define themselves in terms of their differences, rather than the common ground they share. Achieving reconciliation will take time and cannot succeed without honest and inclusive dialogue. Every Ivorian has a part to play and the role of government is to ensure that they are able to do so."

Annan was accompanied by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland.

On Sunday, Ouattara said police will begin preliminary investigations into Gbagbo on Wednesday, but that the matter has not progressed to a judicial level. Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou said investigators have until June to deliver their reports. He says some 200 people close to Gbagbo will also be investigated.

Gbagbo's refusal to cede power after losing the election plunged the country into violence that forced more than 1 million people to flee. The death toll is still not known: the U.N. documented some 500 deaths, but human rights groups say thousands were killed.