A tragedy is unfolding in Ivory Coast that will have regional and international ramifications. More than 100 people have been killed since the election, 16,000 Ivorians have fled to neighbouring Liberia while thousands of others have been internally displaced. Ivory Coast is heading for renewed civil war.

Laurent Gbagbo is internationally isolated, but still not prepared to accept an offer from the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), to make a dignified exit as an elder statesman.

The standoff is the latest crisis since civil war erupted in 2002, splitting the country between north and south.

That conflict was partly over citizenship rights of many residents from the north, and fuelled by youth unemployment caused by the decline of international cocoa prices. A large French military base and French expatriate dominance of many key Ivorian businesses also fed anti-French sentiment.

A 2007 peace deal called for new elections, which were delayed several times before a vote was finally held in October, with a run-off in November.

This crisis is differs from the past, however: the opposition clearly won a significant amount of votes even in Abidjan and France, the former colonial power, is no longer trying to single-handedly influence the outcome.

The only promising aspect of this crisis is the leadership of African institutions. The Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) and the AU have suspended Ivory Coast, and supported sanctions and military intervention to remove Gbagbo. The U.S. and EU have slapped their own sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner-circle, while the World Bank and the West African regional central bank have cut financing.

The Jeunes Patriotes youth militia leader, Charles Ble Goude, who has agitated for Gbagbo, is already under U.N. sanctions. In 2006, when I chaired a U.N. sanctions inspection team in Ivory Coast, I saw the temporary calming effect sanctions had on his behaviour; if he unleashes the violence he has promised, he would not only destroy any future chances of running for the Ivorian presidency but risks courting the attention of the International Criminal Court.

Sanction on cocoa?

International markets have reacted to the crisis by pushing up cocoa futures prices to a four-month high, although there is no talk of an immediate sanction on cocoa — Ivory Coast is the world's top cocoa producer. Renewed civil war will further destroy one of Africa's leading economies, affect the region, and possibly divide the country for ever. ( Alex Vines is head of the Africa Programme at the Chatham House international affairs think tank in London.)— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

The standoff is splitting the country between north and south, with ramifications.