ABUJA, Feb 8 (Reuters) - South Africa's decision to deploy a navy vessel to Ivory Coast is complicating efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to the country's post-election crisis, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS said on Tuesday.
The comments add to rifts between African nations over how to resolve the election crisis where two rivals claimed the presidency after Nov. 28 polls, with incumbent Laurent Gbagbo defying world pressure to hand over to Alassane Ouattara.
ECOWAS has sent delegations to negotiate a release of power by Gbagbo and has threatened to remove him by force; but some African leaders are opposed to the group's warning.
South Africa has not directly endorsed Ouattara as president and could be a potential weak point in regional efforts to force Gbagbo to stand down.
"As we talk now there is a South African warship docked in Cote d'Ivoire. Now actions such as that can only complicate the matter further," the president of the ECOWAS commission, James Victor Gbeho, said in Nigeria's capital Abuja.
The South African defence ministry said a naval ship had been deployed to West Africa as part of a training exercise, although it is ready for any "instruction and assistance" required by its foreign ministry.
"The Department of Defence confirms that the SA Naval ship, the SAS DRAKENSBERG has been on a periodical routine training cruise along the West Coast of Africa since early January 2011 to train junior naval officers," a statement said.
The African Union met at the end of last month, agreeing to form a panel of heads of state to solve the leadership crisis and come up with a legally binding settlement within a month.
Gbeho said he was disappointed with the outcome of the African Union summit where some members looked to "unravel" some of what the West African group had achieved.
"The concern that some of us have is that apparently because of certain geopolitical interests, some countries are keen on awarding a failure mark to ECOWAS at this stage so that they themselves would shine," Gbeho said.
(Reporting by Joe Brock; additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Ralph Boulton)
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