United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland expressed concern today about the rising tensions in Côte d'Ivoire and the impact of possible renewed civil conflict on civilians there.
"If the country lapses back into war, it will only compound the suffering of civilians. I urge all parties to bring an end to the fighting immediately to prevent a humanitarian crisis from worsening," said Mr. Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General in charge of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
A breakdown in law and order, particularly in the north, could jeopardize people's ability to feed themselves, he said.
"Violence poses a threat to people's food security. Harassment and 'taxes' imposed by armed groups at checkpoints and roadblocks are hindering the free flow of produce from north to south," he said. "Food is being grown, but farmers can't bring their goods to market and their usual customers have become too poor to buy them."
A small UN mission (MINUCI) is in the country and French peacekeepers are stationed across Côte d'Ivoire with a view to separating northern rebels, Forces Nouvelles, from the government's Forces Armees de Côte d'Ivoire (FANCI) in the south. The two sides signed a peace agreement earlier this year to end fierce fighting.
Mr. Egeland noted that increased tensions between ethnic groups have erupted into violence in the west of the country. Last month in Gagnoa, some 100 kilometres northwest of Abidjan, more than 200 farmers were driven from their land, he said.
"Attacking people for the sole reason that they are from a particular ethnic group cannot be tolerated. I call on all parties to the conflict to actively bring an end to violence directed against civilians," he said.
Côte d'Ivoire was long West Africa's leading economy and a beacon of tolerance, OCHA said. Conflict broke out after a failed coup in September 2002.