Rebuffing a demand by Côte d'Ivoire’s president that the United Nations mission leave after it certified his electoral defeat, the Security Council today renewed the nearly 9,000-strong force for another six months, foreshadowed a possible increase and threatened sanctions against those imperilling peace.
At the same time, the mission, known by its acronym UNOCI, accused Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down despite international recognition of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as the clear victor in November’s run-off poll, of launching a new wave of harassment against its staff, including night-time knocks on the door by armed men, after the earlier shooting at a UN convoy.
“However, all these acts will not deter UNOCI from doing its job as we remember one of Winston Churchill’s maxims: ‘If you are going through hell, just keep going’,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Y. J. Choi told a news conference in Abidjan, commercial capital of the world’s largest cocoa exporter. “UNOCI shall keep going, doing its job.”
In a unanimous resolution, the Council condemned “in the strongest possible terms the attempts to usurp the will of the people and undermine the integrity of the electoral process and any progress in the peace process in Côte d'Ivoire,” where UNOCI has been supporting efforts over the past seven years to reunify the West African country, which was split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.
Adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter that allows for the use of force, the resolution denounced post-electoral violence that has claimed at least 50 lives and asked Mr. Ban to facilitate dialogue between all sides, urging them to respect Mr. Ouattara’s victory as endorsed by the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in a poll that was meant to be a culminating step in the peace process.
The Council affirmed its readiness to impose sanctions – which can include asset freezes and travel bans – against those threatening the peace process, undermining the outcome of the elections, obstructing UNOCI, or committing human rights violations, and recalled UNOCI’s authorization “to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate” – which includes helping the Government in conjunction with the AU and ECOWAS to re-establish the rule of law.
Renewing the mission’s mandate until 30 June 2011, it authorized a three-month extension of the deployment of 500 additional personnel beyond UNOCI’s maximum strength of 8,650 and a four-week extension of the deployment of three infantry companies and one helicopter unit from the UN mission in neighbouring Liberia. It affirmed “its intention to consider” further temporary UNMIL redeployments as may be needed.
The redeployment from UNMIL to UNOCI was cited today by Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support (DFS) Susana Malcorra as an example of the benefits of the new UN logistics centre set up in Entebbe, Uganda. It enabled the necessary planes to be on site within four hours, she told a news conference in New York.
In a press statement after its meeting, the Council reiterated its deep concern at the continued violence, including armed attacks against UNOCI, and warned all those responsible that they will be brought to justice.
Mr. Choi said that UNOCI’s military and police were increasingly being placed in harm’s way and a decision to distort the mission’s impartial role was made deep inside Mr. Gbagbo’s camp on 15 December.
“This decision was the mother of all the ensuing anti-UNOCI campaign actions that still continue,” he added. “Why? The reason was made known to us three days later on 18 December: President Gbagbo’s camp needed those pre-planned untruthful cases to ask for the departure of UNOCI and Licorne [the French force supporting UNOCI].”
Underscoring the UN’s impartiality, he noted that peacekeepers refused to accompany Mr. Ouattara’s supporters in a march from the Golf Hotel, where he is based, to the presidential palace, despite the Gbagbo camp’s claims that they had conspired to support the march.
Clashes between marchers and Mr. Gbagbo’s military forces led to numerous casualties – at least 50 killed, 200 injured, 470 arbitrarily arrested and detained, and many disappearances, according to tentative UN estimates.
Starting on 15 December, Mr. Gbagbo’s supporters began increasing hostile acts against the international community, Mr. Choi noted. The following day, they began reinforcing checkpoints on the access road to the Golf Hotel, blocking UNOCI vehicles, including an ambulance carrying medical personnel, and sporadically denying access to food and water supply trucks, depriving civilians and UN peacekeepers of water, food and medicines.
The following night, a UN patrol was followed by a civilian car with six military uniformed men who fired at it as it entered UNOCI headquarters. They continued to fire at a sentry on the wall, who fired back.
On Saturday, Mr. Gbagbo’s camp began sending armed men, generally during the night, to the homes of some UN staff, knocking at the door and asking them their departure date or entering their residence under the pretext of looking for weapons.
“UN staff members are blocked and harassed,” Mr. Choi said, while adding that most of the essential staff are continuing with their work, with some even sleeping in their offices. “UNOCI is carrying out its military and police patrols across the country. Our patrols are intended to monitor, observe and dissuade acts of violence and human rights violations. Our rules of engagement allow us to fire only when we are fired at.”