Welcoming South African President Thabo Mbeki's peace mission to Côte d'Ivoire today, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on all parties to resume talks after last week's resurgence of violence and voiced increasing concern over the humanitarian situation in a country torn between government and rebels.
The UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) reported an increase in the number and abusive nature of hate messages on radio and television, which in one instance broadcast the number of a van said to be driven by French nationals, target of attacks since French troops destroyed the Government air force in a reprisal attack on Saturday.
Violent demonstrations showed no signs of waning in Abidjan, the main city, and thugs controlled streets despite joint patrols by UN peacekeepers and their counterparts from France and Côte d'Ivoire aimed at securing some areas and reassuring frightened residents, UNOCI said. The number of people, mostly foreign nationals, seeking refuge in UN-protected sites has reached more than 1,800.
Mr. Annan deplored the continuing violence, called for an end to all hate media and urged all parties to maintain the ceasefire that ended direct fighting in the West African country early last year and resume the peace process.
The new unrest flared on Thursday when the Government violated the ceasefire by launching an attack in the Zone of Confidence (ZOC) in the north of the country separating the combatants. On Saturday Government aircraft bombed French peacekeeping forces in the area, killing nine people and leading to the French reprisal.
On the military front, no Ivorian troops from either side were reported in the UN-monitored ZOC. The northern part of the country was reported to be generally quiet, but Mr. Annan noted "worrying reports" that water and electricity were no longer available at numerous locations, particularly in the north.
"Additionally, UN agencies and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have been forced to drastically reduce their programmes due to security concerns," he said in a statement issued by his spokesman in New York. "The Secretary-General urges the Ivorian authorities to restore and maintain basic services and calls on those concerned to ensure that aid workers have unimpeded access to populations in need."
Noting Mr. Mbeki's mission on behalf of the African Union (AU), Mr. Annan reiterated his full support for efforts by the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in coordination with the UN to find a rapid and lasting solution to the crisis.
At least 1,327 Ivorians, mostly women, children and some elderly, have fled into northeastern Liberia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it was extremely concerned over the impact the situation in Côte d'Ivoire could have on its neighbours, particularly Liberia which is itself struggling to emerge from 14 years of civil strife.
UNHCR offices in the region have been alerted for any contingencies and planning in case of an outflow of Ivorians is in full swing, including an assessment of emergency stocks and staff in the region.