UN suspends aid operations after fighting breaks out in Côte d'Ivoire
In a major violation of the ceasefire in Côte d'Ivoire, Government forces today attacked positions held by the rebel Forces Nouvelles, prompting United Nations humanitarian agencies to suspend their aid operations across the country.
The attacks took place in Bouaké and Korhogo, where up to several dozen civilians may have been killed and wounded.
In a statement released by his spokesman, the Secretary-General, who briefed the Council this morning behind closed doors, urged President Laurent Gbagbo and all the Ivorian parties to immediately cease all hostilities and to take all possible actions to prevent further bloodshed.
He strongly called for the immediate resumption of dialogue so that the peace process can go forward, and reminded the parties that they must ensure the protection and safety of the civilian population as well as UN and other international personnel.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that the fighting around the northern city of Bouaké threatened to cut off thousands of people from urgently needed relief aid. Tensions across Côte d'Ivoire have forced the UN to suspend its humanitarian operations throughout the country.
With Côte d'Ivoire still struggling to emerge from a two-year humanitarian crisis, the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, warned that "a prolonged suspension of aid programmes would endanger thousands of lives."
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have halted their operations in the Bouaké area. WFP has not been able to deliver aid to people in need since the weekend because of roadblocks. There has been a sharp rise in the number of roadblocks near the "Zone de Confiance," an area separating rebel and government forces, around Bouaké in the past week.
Since the crisis began two years ago, the humanitarian situation in northern Côte d'Ivoire - once the economic engine of West Africa - has suffered from an absence of public administration and basic social services. Civilians in the north, cut off from commercial activities and social services, have been sinking further into poverty.
About 70 per cent of all professional health workers have not returned to work in the north, where at least one doctor has been forced to care for up to 200,000 people.
According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), some 700,000 students have been out of school since the beginning of the crisis, some because there are no teachers, others because their families are displaced or have become too poor to send them to school.
Poor funding of humanitarian operations in Côte d'Ivoire is exacerbating these conditions. The UN has received less than one-fifth of the $61 million it needs to conduct emergency relief programmes in the country.