Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said an African effort to mediate Ivory Coast's disputed poll had failed on Wednesday, blaming incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and warning of harsh sanctions or force if he did not step down.

Alassane Ouattara was proclaimed winner of a November 28 poll by the electoral commission and is internationally recognised as president-elect, but Gbagbo has refused to resign, alleging the vote was rigged. He maintains control of the army, much of the cocoa sector and state institutions.

Despite extensive discussions ... with Mr Laurent Gbagbo and President-elect Alassane Ouattara, that went very late into the night, I regret to announce that the breakthrough that was needed, did not materialise, Odinga told reporters at the airport as he was about to leave.

Time is running out, he added of efforts to peacefully resolve the stand-off between the two rival claimants that risks sending the world's top cocoa grower back into a civil war.

Unless they (Gbagbo's camp) heed the call and agree to create a conducive environment for peaceful dialogue, the friends of Ivory Coast might be forced to take other measures...which would require additional punishing economic and financial sanctions, and possibly the use of force.

It was the strongest statement by a visiting mediator to Ivory Coast in its decade-long crisis. Odinga explicitly blamed Gbagbo for the breakdown in negotiations, saying he had not acted on a pledge to lift a military siege on the hotel where Ouattara's parallel administration remains under U.N. guard.

Mr Gbagbo gave me an assurance that this blockade would be lifted yesterday, but he broke that promise, for the second time in two weeks, he said, explaining why he cut his trip short.

Ivory Coast missed a payment on its 1.4 billion pound bond at the end of December, but has until February 1 before it goes into default.


A senior aide to Gbagbo said he could not yet comment on Odinga's remarks because they had not been informed.

If negotiations fail, it remains unclear whether tougher sanctions or a military intervention would be forthcoming anytime soon.

The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while efforts continue to squeeze his access to funds, with little impact yet.

The latest measure saw EU-registered vessels at the weekend barred from new financial dealings with Ivorian ports but cocoa exporters say they are continuing operations as normal and the flow of beans is running higher than last year.

Gbagbo also apparently still has access to 1 billion pounds of reserves at the state accounts in francophone West Africa's central bank, despite a statement in late December that suggested the monetary union did not recognise him.

U.N. mission chief Y.J. Choi told a news conference on Tuesday: We know pressure from outside, especially the ... monetary union, is (being) felt by President Gbabgo's camp.

Odinga said force was a last resort, as West African regional bloc ECOWAS threatened; but doubts have grown over the feasibility and the region is seen as divided over it.

Military chiefs of West African regional bloc ECOWAS met in Mali on Tuesday to discuss the planning of an ouster of Gbagbo.

Russia on Tuesday delayed a Security Council vote on sending more U.N. troops to Ivory Coast, suggesting it may be difficult to get backing in the council for any ratcheting up of the peacekeeping force.

The U.N. mission estimates at least 247 people have been killed since the dispute began, many in night-time raids by security forces or allied militias against residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods. Gbagbo's camp denies this.

Odinga also said had urged Ouattara during the talks to name Gbagbo allies in a cabinet and give him assurances of his security.