Recent political agreements in Côte d’Ivoire and the engagement of the international community there have opened a window for progress toward elections and peace in the divided West African country – but only if all commitments are kept, a top United Nations envoy said today.
“There is definitely a change in the atmospherics of Côte d’Ivoire,” Pierre Schori, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative to the country, told journalists after briefing the Security Council.
“After the crisis of January when they attacked us and chased out humanitarian agencies from the western part of the country, there is a new spirit there,” he affirmed, referring to the mob violence that destroyed, looted and otherwise besieged UN offices for four days in Abidjan, the commercial centre, and other towns.
He said the new atmosphere had occurred because of new agreements – on disarmament and the preparation of elections – reached in the capital of Yamoussoukro between the Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, President Laurent Gbagbo and other leaders, as well as the strong engagement of the international community and the African Union and the strong stance of the UN operation in the country (UNOCI).
He warned, however, that the new spirit would not last long without progress and the cooperation of all involved.
“The window of opportunity is there now, but it is a very narrow window and time is running fast,” he cautioned, saying that any delay in the election process would break the October deadline for the polls.
“There must be a willingness of Ivorian politicians to fulfil what they’ve signed onto and the determination of the international community to contain and castigate any spoilers” he added, emphasizing that the international community stands ready to against such adversaries with sanctions.
In his latest report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Annan said that despite the progress since January, a “rapid deterioration of the security situation” could not be ruled out and he again appealed to the 15-member Council to “give positive consideration” to his recommendations to reinforce UNOCI by almost 4,000 extra troops and police, as proposed in his report of 3 January and a letter sent last month.
Today, Mr. Schori confirmed the need for those reinforcements, pointing out that Côte d’Ivoire has 18 million people, a large territory and 30,000 election sites to be guarded. UNOCI would do its best with whatever reinforcements are provided, whether it is the full 4,000 or only half, he said, adding: “But zero is one option and that of course is much worse.”
The Security Council established UNOCI in 2004 to assist the Ivorian parties in implementing a peace agreement they signed in January of that year, ending a north-south civil war that began with a failed coup against President Gbagbo. It currently guards the so-called Zone of Confidence separating the Government-ruled south and rebel-held north.
Mr. Annan’s requested increase in personnel would constitute a marked expansion of UNOCI, which presently has a strength of almost 7,600 uniformed personnel.