Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara will extend until March 10 the period of the ban he has called on cocoa exports to try to unseat his rival, a spokesman for his government said on Tuesday.

The ban, initially proposed from January 24 for one month, has been largely heeded by exporters even though Ouattara remains holed up in a hotel while incumbent Laurent Gbagbo holds onto power in the top cocoa producing country.

Yes, the step to ban the exports of cocoa will be extended from tomorrow until March 10. That is all I know, Patrick Achi, a spokesman for Ouattara's government said.

Ouattara beat Gbagbo in a November 28 presidential election, according to U.N.-certified results, but Gbagbo has refused to go, defying international condemnation and Western sanctions.

African leaders are currently in Ivory Coast seeking an end to the standoff but hopes of a breakthrough are low and the absence of West African leaders highlighted the difficulty of forging a united African position on the crisis.

Gbagbo retains the support of the military and controls most state institutions, including cocoa regulators and the ports.

But Ouattara has warned exporters that, assuming he comes to power, they would be sanctioned if they cooperated with Gbagbo's government by paying export taxes to ship their beans.

Exporters face the added dilemma of European Union sanctions on a number of Ivorian institutions backing Gbagbo and the combined measures have contributed to the drying up of exports.

The turmoil in Ivory Coast has driven cocoa futures to the highest levels in more than three decades.